Two sandy color desert dogs sitting and paying attention during clicker training session
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Is Clicker Training Better Than Verbal Training For Dogs?

Quick Answer

  • Clicker training and verbal training are both popular methods of positive reinforcement-based training. 
  • Both approaches have their merits, and dog owners will likely develop their own individual preference for one method of training, or use a combination of the two.
  • Research shows that both clicker training and verbal training are effective training methods, with neither necessarily being “better” than the other.

When it comes to choosing between clicker training and verbal training for your canine companion, it’s important to consider your personal preference, your own unique situation, and your dog’s individual needs. 

You may even find that a combination of both techniques works best for you and your dog. 

According to the extensive research available, both methods have proven to be an effective way to train dogs new skills, so there is really no wrong decision.

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Comparison Table: Clicker Training vs Verbal Training

Before we break down the pros and cons of clicker training vs. verbal training, let’s start with this chart comparing the things you need to take into consideration when choosing a training method for your dog:

Chart comparing clicker training to verbal training © The Cat and Dog House

Clicker Training vs. Verbal Training: Which Has Better Results?

Over the years, scientific studies have compared the efficacy of clickers versus verbal markers in dog training to see if one method is more effective than the other. 

  • An early study suggested that dogs trained with a clicker learned more quickly than dogs trained with a verbal marker like ‘Good!’ or ‘Yes!’ (Wood, 2007).
  • A later study pointed out that current research doesn’t strongly support that notion, namely that using a clicker in dog training is better than using verbal markers. So, when people say that clicker training is generally superior, it might not be entirely accurate (Fraser, 2020).
  • A more recent study found that different positive reinforcement methods all work well. Whether it’s using treats alone or combining the use of treats with verbal markers or a clicker, all of these approaches are effective in teaching dogs new behaviors. One method is not significantly better than the others (Gilchrist et al., 2021).

In a nutshell, that’s what some of the research says.

Anecdotally, however, evidence suggests that using a verbal marker like ‘Yes!’ may be easier for novice dog trainers and pet owners. 

The use of a clicker requires precise timing and coordination, which can be challenging for those who are new to dog training. 

A clicker also means you have to coordinate your dog, the clicker, the treat pouch, and the treats all at the same time, which can be difficult and even overwhelming for some trainers.

On the other hand, using a simple verbal marker like ‘Yes!’ or ‘Good!’ is less demanding and allows for a more natural and effortless communication with the dog.

Sandy color desert dog sitting with head tilted and paying attention during clicker training session
Research shows that clicker training and verbal training are both effective training methods, and provide a positive, optimal learning environment for dogs © The Cat and Dog House

What Is Clicker Training?

Clicker training is a form of positive reinforcement training where a distinctive sound, or click, serves as a “bridge” between the desired behavior and the reward that follows.

Through repetition, your dog soon learns that the sound of the clicker predicts the delivery of a treat or something else he values highly and begins to associate the click with engaging in the desired behavior.

What Is A Clicker?

  • A clicker is a small, plastic handheld device, usually shaped like a circular- or rectangular-type box, which makes a distinct clicking sound when the metal tongue is pressed. 
  • The click sound is paired with a treat or other high-value reward to mark a desired behavior in the dog. 
  • A clicker is used as a precise and consistent way to mark a specific behavior at the exact moment it occurs. 
Person's hand holding blue dog training clicker
A clicker is a tool used to mark desired behaviors in dog training © The Cat and Dog House

What Is Positive Reinforcement?

  • Positive reinforcement in dog training is a powerful and effective method that focuses on rewarding desired behaviors rather than punishing unwanted ones. 
  • It involves using rewards such as treats, toys, praise, or play to encourage your dog to repeat behaviors that you want him to learn. 

The Benefits Of Clicker Training 

Consistency

  • One advantage of the clicker is that, unlike the human voice, the sound of the click is always the same.
  • This makes it clear and easy for your dog to understand when he has done something you like. 

Timing

  • Clicker training allows for precise timing. 
  • Because the click is used to instantly mark the desired behavior, you can provide clear feedback to your dog.
  • This makes it easier for him to understand what he is being rewarded for.

Clear Communication

  • Using a clicker helps establish a clear communication system between the dog and the trainer.  
  • The sound of a clicker is consistent and always followed by a reward.
  • This makes it easier for dogs to respond to cues and learn new things. 

Positive Reinforcement

  • Clicker training relies on positive reinforcement, meaning that good behavior is rewarded. 
  • Over time, the dog learns to associate the sound or word with the reward and will repeat the behavior to earn the reward.
  • This makes for a positive learning environment and a more enjoyable training experience for both the dog and the trainer.

Sets Dogs Up For Success

  • In the clicker training environment, nothing bad ever happens.
  • The worst that can happen is that the dog will not get a click.
  • This encourages dogs to use their brains to figure out what they need to do to get the click.
  • When dogs use their thinking brain, it helps inhibit their emotional brain, meaning they are calmer and more relaxed overall.
  • When dogs are calm and relaxed, they can learn more quickly and easily.
  • Dogs are empowered to make their own choices and encouraged to try out new things.
  • This leads to a more well-adjusted and well-mannered pet
  • It also helps boost their self-esteem and confidence as they strive to learn which behaviors lead to positive outcomes. 
  • This can be a game changer for all dogs, especially those who are fearful or struggle with anxiety.

Compare all this to old-school aversive methods that rely on fear, intimidation, coercion, and punishment where the dog is so scared he can barely think straight.

Ever had a teacher like that at school?

It’s exactly the same for dogs.

Female trainer with blue shepherd dog sitting on cue, during clicker training session
Clicker training relies on positive reinforcement, meaning that good behavior is rewarded and more likely to be repeated © The Cat and Dog House

What Is Verbal Training?

Verbal training involves using verbal markers to communicate with your dog and teach them desired behaviors. 

Like clicker training, it also relies on positive reinforcement and rewards for good behavior.

The main difference is that instead of a clicker, verbal training uses a specific marker word or phrase to mark the desired behavior.

This can be something as simple as saying “Good boy/girl/dog!” or “Yes!” in a positive, upbeat tone of voice.

The Benefits Of Verbal Training

  • Verbal training helps build a strong communication bond between you and your dog.
  • It promotes a positive and trusting relationship between you and your dog, as it is based on rewards and positive reinforcement rather than fear or punishment.
  • Spoken word markers can be used in any situation, making training more convenient and adaptable. 
  • Just like clicker training, verbal training is a humane approach to teaching dogs, as it focuses on encouraging good behavior rather than punishing unwanted behaviors. 

How Do Clicker Training And Verbal Training Work?

Clicker training and verbal training work in exactly the same way.

When you use a clicker or say ‘Yes!’ to your dog and then give him a treat (officially known as a primary reinforcer), the click or the word ‘yes’ becomes what we could call a ‘special signal’ (technically known as a secondary reinforcer).

It’s like a thumbs-up for your dog because he knows it means he did something good and will get a reward. 

As training progresses, your dog will quickly learn to associate the click or the word ‘Yes!’ with receiving a reward.

Over time, the click or the ‘Yes!’ becomes rewarding in itself.

Once a behavior is learned, the rewards can be phased out, and the ‘special signal’ alone becomes enough to reinforce good behavior.

So when you hear people criticize reward-based training and say they don’t want to have to carry around treats for the rest of their dog’s life, this is actually not the case at all.

The number of trials required to establish this association will vary depending on the dog, the trainer, and the overall training environment.

Why Positive Reinforcement Is Better Than Punishment

When training dogs, negative reinforcement, such as yelling or physical punishment, can create fear and anxiety, leading to long-term negative impacts on their well-being. 

No one can learn when they’re scared or in pain and can’t think straight.

That’s why aversive training tools like prong collars, choke chains, startle devices, citronella collars, and the dreaded shock collar are potentially so harmful to a dog’s mental and emotional health.

Positive reinforcement methods, on the other hand, promote a healthy and trusting relationship between you and your dog. 

Positive reinforcement enhances your dog’s motivation to learn, encourages good behavior, and builds confidence. 

This approach not only teaches dogs to behave appropriately but also strengthens the bond between the owner and the pet.

Tips For Successful Clicker Training

Clicker training is a highly effective technique that creates an efficient language between you and your dog. 

Let’s say you’re training your dog to sit. 

You click the moment his butt hits the floor, and quickly give him a treat. 

He’ll soon learn that sitting leads to a reward, making him more likely to repeat the behavior.

Clicker training can be used to teach a wide range of behaviors, from basic cues like sit and stay to more complex tricks and tasks. 

Here are some basics to keep in mind:

Timing Is Essential 

  • The click must come right after the desired behavior to effectively mark it as correct.

Random Rewards

  • In the beginning, reward every time your dog hears the click. 
  • Gradually, you can switch to rewarding more randomly to maintain motivation. 
  • This is when dogs start to try even harder, going all out to get that coveted click.

Keep Sessions Short And Sweet

  • Dogs have a shorter attention span than humans, so it’s best to have several short training sessions, rather than one long training session where the dog gets tired, bored, or frustrated.

Stay Consistent

  • Use the same cue for each behavior, and always follow up with a click and treat when your dog does what you ask. 

Use One-Word Cues

  • Use one word for each behavior, such as ‘sit,’ ‘wait,’ down,’ stay,’ ‘come,’ etc. 
  • Just say your cue word once and wait. 
  • Don’t repeat the word several times or bury it in a sentence. 
  • You don’t want a dog who only sits after you’ve said ‘sit, sit, sit, SIT, SIIIITTTTT!!’
  • If your dog doesn’t do what you’ve asked the first time, give him a moment to think about it and see what he does. 
  • If he still doesn’t follow the cue, take a few steps away to reset, then ask again.

Patience And Consistency

  • Be patient, and avoid frustration if progress is slow.
  • Stick to the same cues to avoid confusion.
  • Avoid the temptation to rush your dog and work to his learning timeline, not yours.

Gradual Complexity

  • Once your dog masters basic cues, gradually build up duration and distance (e.g. sit for longer periods of time; wait in the same spot while you walk back a step and then return).
  • Break down complex behaviors into smaller, manageable steps.

End On A Positive Note

  • Always end each session with a successful behavior and plenty of praise and treats. 
  • While your dog is busy with his final treats, it’s also a good idea to throw in an ‘All done!’ marker and walk off, so he knows for sure this is the end of the session.

Practice In Different Environments

  • Once your dog has mastered a behavior in one environment, practice it in different settings to ensure the behavior is generalized and he responds reliably, even in challenging environments.
  • For example, dogs can be great at coming back when called when they are in their own yard, but completely different when they are out in the park and distracted by all the fascinating scents and other dogs.

Use High-Value Treats

  • To keep your dog motivated, use a food reward that he doesn’t get any other time. 
  • Think special treats like cheese, hot dog, rib eye steak…something that is really worth his while to work for. 
  • Each piece can be about the size of half a thumbnail, so you won’t overfeed your pup during training.

Avoid Negative Reinforcement

  • Always use an upbeat, friendly voice.
  • Refrain from using harsh tones or punishment.
  • Negative reinforcement and punishment can create fear and hinder the training process.

The concept of clicker training may seem overwhelming at first, but it is actually quite straightforward once you get the hang of it. 

Here’s well-known professional dog trainer Zak George demonstrating how easy it is to get started:

And in this short video, respected trainer Emily Larlham highlights some of the fundamentals of clicker training to be aware of:

Using Verbal Training To Train Your Dog

If you prefer to train your dog using verbal markers, the exact same principles found in the above section Tips For Successful Clicker Training apply.

The only difference is that you are using a word, like ‘Good!’ or ‘Yes!’ to mark good behavior.

You do have to be careful with your timing and tone, as these are important factors in making sure your dog understands what you want from him.

So why not give both methods a try, see which you like best, which your dog likes best, and what is likely to be the most practical and effective for both of you?

You may even settle on a combination of the two.

Whichever your choice, you really can’t go wrong.

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NEED A DOG TRAINER OR BEHAVIOR EXPERT?

If you need more help dealing with a training or behavior issue, please find professional help from a force-free dog trainer who can consult with you either in person or remotely.

GOOD PLACES TO START ARE:
- COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers
- Pet Dog Trainers of Europe
- International Companion Animal Network
- Institute of Modern Dog Trainers
- Pet Professional Guild 

All dog owners deserve to have successful relationships with their canine companions!