Just like humans, dogs learn in different ways. For some dogs, clicker training might be the secret to getting Fido to sit or stop barking while other hounds may react better to alternative dog training methods.
Clicker training is a reward-based training that commits to positive reinforcements, using treats to guide your dog towards good behavior. As effective as it can be for getting your dog to do what he’s told, clicker training can be a bit tricky at first. It’s also not ideal if you have a deaf dog, as he won’t be able to hear the clicker and thereby respond to it.
Here are the best alternatives to clicker dog training if you’re looking for something more effective for your dog.
1: Positive Reinforcement — Without the Clicker
Positive reinforcement training is a method made famous by trainers like Sylvia-Stasiewicz — the woman who trained Obama’s pooch, Bo. The theory is quite simple.
If you give your dog a reward after he displays good behavior, he will repeat that good behavior. Bad behavior, on the other hand, does not get a reward. It’s about acknowledging the positive things he does through rewards and correcting bad behavior by removing the reward. It could be a toy or a treat that’s taken away. Physical punishments are not necessary — ever!
Positive reinforcement training begins with rewarding a desired behavior within seconds after it happens. Doing this enables your dog to associate the behavior with the reward. Or in other words, if he associates behaving well with receiving a reward, he’ll most likely do it again and again in order to get rewarded.
Despite what you may have been told, you don’t need a clicker to do positive reinforcement training. While some trainers combine the method, you can give short and concise commands instead of using a clicker. For example, “sit,” “stay,” “come.”
If you’re going to be successful with positive reinforcement training, you will need to be consistent. And not just you, but everyone in the household. Dogs get confused when behavior becomes inconsistent.
For best results, provide continuous rewards every time your dog does the correct thing. Once the behavior becomes more consistent, move to intermittent rewards. And most importantly, remember to always only reward good behavior. Rewards can include toys, treats, or even praise. Another important thing to remember: avoid overfeeding your pooch. You should be rewarding him with small, bite-size treats.
What’s more, bear in mind that behavioral correction takes time so you will need to be patient in order to see results.
2: Model-Rival Dog Training
Developed by researcher Irene Pepperberg, the model-rival method (otherwise known as the mirror method) is proven to be effective for fostering good behavior in dogs. So, what is it exactly?
Model-rival dog training refers to the process of dogs learning by example. In order to show a dog how to behave in the correct way, a trainer will place him in front of another dog to observe that dog completing a desired behavior and earning a reward for it. Basically, it shows a dog that if he behaves that way, he too will receive a treat.
Generally speaking, model-rival training isn’t that common. However, it can be useful in a variety of settings.
Mirror training relies on the principle of using a dog as a model and then offering rewards for good behavior. In other words, the dog learns by example. According to the experts, this training method works with a similar level of success as positive reinforcement conditioning. In fact, it’s often preferred for being more natural.
If you and your dog share a strong bond and you often find him following you around, this training method can be especially effective and more convenient than sticking to rigid training sessions.
Model-rival training can be helpful in expanding a dog’s skill set — especially puppies. It’s also a fun and friendly way to switch up training if you’re looking for something a little more comfortable for your dog.
While model-rival training is helpful for dogs providing a service or performing a job, this technique isn’t so effective for day-to-day tasks. It also requires a lot of repetition and focus, and a reasonably strong bond with your dog.
3: Relationship-Based Training
Relationship-based training combines multiple training methods, but zooms in on a more individualized approach for both the dog and human. The goal of relationship-based training is to keep your pup happy and relaxed during training. It is the relationship between dog and human that determines the success of this technique. After all, he’s going to perform better if you’re nice to him, right?
This method involves the owner teaching commands in a distraction-free zone and waiting until the pup has conquered them before proceeding with more difficult commands. It’s about fostering communication and strengthening the bond between dog and human.
In order for relationship-based training to be a success, you must be able to read your dog’s body language and what rewards motivate him. It’s also important to know how to meet your pooch’s basic needs before each training session begins.
The dog’s environment must be controlled with no distractions. New behavior is achieved based on previous success. For instance, your dog must learn to sit in a distraction-free room before trying to perform the command in a busy public area with adults, kids, and other animals.
When your dog does not perform the desired behavior, it is the responsibility of the owner to distinguish why instead of punishing him. Is your dog hurt? Hungry? Is he unable to hear? Or simply unwilling to follow your command?
Relationship-based training is an excellent foundation for any good dog training session. It also leads to a deep and meaningful bond between you and your dog. However, it does take time and patience.
It may also be difficult with strong-willed dogs that have a hard time following instructions. According to the pros, it’s also not the best method for multi-dog situations where you can both easily get distracted.
4: Voice Training
If you don’t want the burden of having to carry a clicker around with you everywhere, try the voice training method instead. The idea is that when your dog does something he’s asked to do, like “sit,” he is reinforced by you saying something like “Good dog!” in a happy-sounding voice and then giving him some kind of reward. It could be a treat, a pat on the head, or something else. Other good words to use include “Yes!” “Good boy!, “Good girl” or “Yey!” Just make sure you stick to the same word for consistency. You don’t want to confuse the poor guy!
One advantage voice training has over clickers is that a happy-sounding voice mimics the sound that dog mothers use with their pups for desired behaviors. Experts say dogs respond well to such sounds mimicked by humans. Another plus point is that you don’t need to carry around a clicker or risk losing it since your voice is always with you. And finally, voice training comes with far less of a timing issue than clicker training.
The only downside to voice training is that it may be difficult for people with deep voices to say positive phrases in a high-pitched voice. It needs to sound genuine and authentic to the dog in order for them to respond well to it.
5: Scientific Training
Science-based training combines classical conditioning and operant conditioning. While there are positive rewards, this technique also involves negative punishments. Researchers believe you should be able to train your dog to behave properly without rewarding them for every positive step they make.
While it’s a generally broad category and one that cannot be categorized easily, scientific training focuses on using new studies to train dogs. Since new studies come out all the time, it’s about applying new research in your training sessions and staying updated on the latest studies.
This dog training technique is most often best left to professional trainers. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t try it yourself. If you and your dog have a strong bond, it shouldn’t be hard to point him in the direction and foster improved behavior in your pooch.
Science-based dog training is best for dog parents that want to stay informed and draw inspiration from new research whenever it becomes available.
Overall, science-based training is great for helping owners learn more about dog behavior. It ensures you are committed to understanding your pooch and the latest science available. The only downside to this approach is that it can be challenging and time-consuming to always be up-to-date with the latest scientific studies in relation to dog behavior. In some cases, it may be better for you to leave this approach to a trained professional.
6: Vibrating Collar Training
For those with deaf dogs, clicker training simply will not work. A good alternative to clicker dog training is the vibrating collar technique. These collars typically attach via a fabric collar which contacts with a buckle or Velcro. The vibrating module attached to the collar which contacts your dog’s neck.
Vibrating collars can be used to trigger a vibration via a handheld remote which you can use whenever he does something wrong.
Unlike shock collars, which produce a small amount of electricity to zap your dog’s neck to correct a problematic behavior, vibrating collars are said to be a little more humane. However, remember that some dogs are too sensitive for any kind of electrical collar and they should only be used as a last resort. In the case that you do use these collars for training, only ever choose one that vibrates and not one that shocks.
Both kinds of collars are still controversial, so only use them if no other training method works. If you do decide to try them, pay attention to how your dog responds to you using them. Does he seem unbothered? In pain? Pay attention to how he reacts and decide from there whether or not to continue. Speak to your veterinarian for professional advice.
#7: Hand Signal Training
If you’re wondering how to train your deaf pooch, consider trying the hand signal training technique. It involves using a hand signal such as a thumbs up or wave to signal to your dog that he did something correct. After making the signal, give your dog a treat or praise.
There are no set or wrong hand signals for training a deaf dog. The key is to choose one or two you will use, and then stick to them throughout your training sessions. If you’re not consistent, he’ll just get confused.
You may also decide to allocate a hand signal for each command. For example, a flat downwards hand for “lie down” or your palms outwards and open for “come here.” There are a variety of hand signals you can use that are especially designed for deaf dogs. Just always keep things consistent — it’s crucial in the dog training process!
Remember, it may take a while before your dog gets familiar with the commands and signals. Be patient, and he will eventually learn.
#8: Flashlight Training
Once again, this is a great training technique for deaf canines. Instead of using an auditory signal like a clicker, flashlight training involves the use of a visual clicker. It’s basically a pocket-sized key ring flashlight which serves as a marker signal. For safety reasons, avoid using the light from a laser pointer.
Pair the flash of the flashlight with the presentation of a reward like a tasty bone or snack — just like you would pair the clicker and a treat. From his side, point the flashlight in the direction of his face, avoiding getting too close. Briefly flash the light for a couple of seconds and then feed the dog a treat. Repeat several times. This should only be done when the dog has displayed desired behavior.
For example, let’s say you flash the light and he sits. Then you would give him a treat. If you flash the light and he does nothing, you don’t give him a treat. The goal is for him to associate the good behavior with the flashlight and the reward. Soon, your dog will look at you expecting the reward as soon as he sees the flash. When this is fully established, you can move forward with the training.
Since the flash can be seen by multiple angles, the flashlight is an excellent marker when you begin shaping behaviors in your dog. Do NOT allow your dog to chase after the light, or it will lose its credibility as a marker signal.
9: Capturing with Cuddling
Capturing is a simple dog training technique that involves observing the dog and letting him know when he does something that makes you happy. You watch your dog and when he does something you like, “mark” the moment by giving him a cuddle.
It works in the same way as clicker training. The only difference is that you’re cuddling him instead of pressing the clicker.
Sit is a very easy behavior to capture. When you catch him sitting, go over and give him a cuddle. Other easy behaviors to capture include eye contact and hand touching. When these behaviors happen, make sure you show him how proud you are by giving him a cuddle. You can occasionally throw a treat in there too as a little added bonus for when he’s done something really well.
10: Balanced Dog Training
To put it simply, balanced dog training refers to any approach to dog training which involves the use of both reward based techniques and negative consequences. For example, if your dog sits after you told him to sit, you would feed him a treat, give him a pat on the head, or give him a toy. If you asked him to sit and he did not sit, you would take away his toy or give him a treat you know he won’t like.
Doing this enables him to associate certain behaviors with positive reactions and certain behaviors with adverse reactions. It’s a quick way to teach him what’s right and wrong.