What is Clicker Training?
As positive reinforcement systems for training dogs become more and more popular, many families are coming to clicker trainers to learn more about this approach.
Clicker Training is an approach to teaching dogs what we WANT them to do, rather than focusing on what we DON’T want them to do. Based on the science of behaviorism, clicker training requires the pairing of a marker tool (the clicker) with food to establish a conditioned reinforcer and then the sound of the “click” is used to indicate the moment the dog does something the trainer would like them to do again.
When the mechanical skills of the Clicker Trainer are mastered, they are able to give very precise information to the animal and because they are gaining access to reinforcement with each click, the dog enjoys the process as well.
But How Do I Use a Clicker With my Deaf Dog?
Establishing a conditioned reinforcer through the use of a marker tool is a really great place to start your training. Even though your deaf dog can’t hear, they can see and feel touch, so you have many other options to use as a marker.
My first choice is always a key ring LED flashlight. They are light and compact, can be attached to a wrist coil just like a regular clicker and they give a nice, bright flash that your deaf dog can see. Please do not point a laser pointer in your dog’s eyes, ever as this can be very dangerous. I found a key ring LED flashlight at my dollar store for literally $1…considering the cost of clickers, I may switch to a silent marker myself (lol).
The flash is easily perceived by the dog from a number of different angles, which makes it an ideal marker tool, especially when you begin to shape more complex behaviors.
To “charge up” the flash, you follow the same protocol you would for a regular clicker. Here are the steps:
Other Types of Marker Tools
You could also use a hand signal, such as a “thumbs up,” as a click. A signal like this would allow you to mark your dog’s behavior from a distance, during the daylight when the flash is a bit harder to see.
If you were working at a distance outdoors, you could also use a higher-powered flashlight, or a strobe light like the one that photographers use. This is one way how bird trainers mark the behavior of their animals while they are in flight.
You could also use a particular touch, such as a quick tap on the cheek. This can be aversive for some dogs, so make sure that it is a gentle touch and always paired with something amazing. To click from a distance, perhaps to release from a down-stay, you would return to your dog to give them their “tap” and then return to your position to continue on with the next behavior cue.
At the sound of a human voice, dogs with normal hearing automatically look up and usually find this type of action very rewarding with human interaction and attention. Deaf dogs don’t have the same experience, and really may never look up at you on their own.
I love the “It’s Your Choice” program, however, it may be a lengthy process to wait for your deaf dog to offer you attention and considering this, prompting your deaf dog for attention, at least in the beginning, will most likely be necessary.
This process of prompting must be discontinued as soon as the dog is offering lots of attention and gets the connection that paying attention to you pays handsomely!
Without attention and connection, whether your dog is deaf or hearing, you really can’t achieve much in communication with them. Life with a deaf dog may seem like it will come with a boat load of unique challenges, but through reinforcement-based training systems we can teach them the same way we would any dog, they are just going to have many different signals to use as a cue for, “hey you, look at me, I have something to tell you.”
Some attention cues that can be used are a rump tap, gentle collar pressure, a waved hand, flickering lights in a room, flickering the porch light, waving a hand or even a stomp on the floor! You can be creative, just make them distinct, easy to understand and simple for you to remember.
Here are some great games to play to get attention. Remember to keep your training sessions short and fun! No longer than 3-5 minutes at a time and only a few sessions a day.
Game #1 – Yoyo Game
How does the process of clicker training work?
Now that you’ve got your deaf dog’s attention, you’ve charged up your flash and understand a bit about how to teach behaviors using it, you can start to teach other behaviors such as come, sit, down and walk on the leash.
Use the procedure below to capture or shape new behaviors:
If you choose to use a vibrating collar for your deaf dog, there are a few of things to consider.
I have spent the past 15+ years learning the science of how all things learn and mastering my art as an animal trainer, behaviour consultant and transformative coach. With my specialty in canine reactivity, fear, aggression and canine communication, I have many insights to share into understanding, preventing, predicting and changing canine behaviour.