“Click!” Is This The Missing Link In Your Boxer’s Training?

Whether you have a brand new puppy or your adult Boxer doesn’t listen, using a clicker is the fastest and most effective way to communicate with your dog and condition good behavior.

Clicker training is a positive reinforcement technique that will give you the power to rapidly teach your Boxer dog how to do absolutely anything.

Also known as “mark and reward”, clicker training involves using a small device to make a “click” sound whenever your Boxer offers a desired behavior. Then, you give him a treat.

Your Boxer soon makes the connection between his action and the treat, and does it again.

With repetition, the behavior becomes habit and happens almost automatically.


This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to see my full disclaimer here.


What’s The Theory Behind Clicker Training?

Clicker training is based on the teachings of the psychologist B.F. Skinner who proposed a theory of “operant conditioning” to explain behavior.

He said that all creatures will repeat behaviors that are rewarded and stop doing those that are not.

This applies to birds, humans and every animal in between.

Skinner’s principles were used by animal trainer Bob Bailey, who directed the US Navy Marine Mammal Program in the sixties, to train more than 140 different species including large and dangerous wild animals like killer whales that could not be made to do anything by force.

By simply associating a desired behavior with a positive consequence, over and over, you can condition your Boxer to offer that behavior of his own volition and readily perform it on command.


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How To Use A Clicker With Your Boxer

The clicker is used to “mark” the precise moment at which your dog does the desired behavior, supercharging your ability to communicate exactly what you want.

The clicker also “bridges” the time delay between the behavior and the giving of the reward.

So, for instance, if you want to teach your dog to sit, you:

  1. Wait for him to sit of his own accord
  2. Click at the exact moment your dog’s butt hits the floor
  3. Dispense a food reward

With enough repetitions, what happens is you eventually transfer the positive emotion experienced by your Boxer when he receives the food reward to the click itself.

In other words, the sound of the click becomes its own reward and something your dog is willing to work to earn.

Getting Started With Clicker Training: Loading The Clicker

Before you can use the clicker to train your dog, you have to “load” or “charge” the clicker with positive emotional value.

This just means your dog needs to understand what the clicker signifies: that he’s done something right and is about to be rewarded.

Some people do this by simply clicking randomly and then delivering a treat.

This will associated the click with a reward.

However, a better way to charge the clicker is this:

  1. Have your dog off leash in a safe, contained area
  2. Wait for your dog to eye contact with you
  3. At this exact moment, click
  4. Immediately give your dog a treat

The advantage of this approach is that you are both teaching your dog what the click sound means, and teaching him that engaging with you leads to rewards.

Each time you click and treat, it’s like putting coins in the piggybank that you’ll be able to draw on down the track when you’ve turned the sound into a reward in itself.

How To Teach Your Boxer Basic Commands With A Clicker

Clicker training can be used to teach complex behaviors and tricks or basic obedience commands.

To teach “Sit”, “Down” or “Come”:

  1. Prepare a treat pouch with healthy food morsels and strap it on your waist
  2. Have your dog off leash in a safe, familar and contained area with no distractions
  3. Wait until your dog does the desired behavior
  4. Click at the exact moment the behavior happens
  5. Reward with a treat
  6. Wait until your dog does it again, and repeat the click and reward

At this point you are not naming the command.

That comes later, after many sessions.

Once your dog is consistently offering the behavior to earn a click and reward, only then do you name the command, by saying the word as your dog does the action.

The next step is to have your dog learn to do the command at a distance from you, as well as in close proximity.

Then you can introduce distractions of increasing intensity, stepping up the degree of difficulty gradually as your dog masters each level.

How To Use A Clicker To Correct Problem Behavior In Boxers

You unteach any behavior the same way it was (often inadvertently) taught: by rewarding what you want to see instead.

Say the problem is nuisance barking.

Instead of scolding your dog when he’s barking:

  1. Wait for the absence of the problem behavior i.e. your dog stops barking
  2. Click to mark the desired behavior (being quiet)
  3. Reward

Another example might be jumping up on people, a common Boxer problem.

Rather than yanking on the leash when your dog jumps up, click when all four paws are on the ground and reward for that.

Your dog will continue to do what you reward him for and not bother with the behavior that gets him nothing.

There is no short cut, particularly with behaviors that have been allowed to go on for a long time.

But if you put in the time and the work, you will see results faster than you think with clicker training.

And you will achieve these results without having to punish your dog, which only serves to instill fear and undermine the relationship.

Phasing Out Food Rewards, Then Phasing Out The Clicker

Owners might worry that you’ll always need to have a clicker and treats on hand in order to get your Boxer to obey.

This is not the case.

After enough repetitions, the dog comes to recognize the clicking sound as reinforcement in and of itself, working to “earn” a click, regardless of whether any food is given afterwards.

Once the behaviors are established as habit, you won’t need food rewards .. and ultimately you won’t need the click.

Clicker Training Vs. Coercive Methods

The main advantage of a clicker over coercive methods is simple: it works, and it doesn’t damage your relationship with your dog.

Boxers can be stubborn, and coercive training methods will only cause them to shut down and opt out.

Clicker training is the opposite end of the spectrum, shaping behavior through reward, and encouraging your dog to think for himself and experiment.

This approach appeals to a Boxer’s independence, creativity and sense of fun.

The beauty of the clicker is that you are gaining control of your dog’s behavior without using compulsion to “make” him do anything. No prong or shock collar in sight. No scolding or jerking the leash.

Your dog just thinks you’re playing games with him.

There’s no better way to build your bond with your dog, and no better mental stimulation for a Boxer.

How Not To Use A Clicker With Your Boxer

There are only a few ways to mess up clicker training.

Diluting The Click

In the beginning, you must make sure a click is always followed by a food reward.

At this stage, you are working on establishing the association in your dog’s mind, so absolute consistency is key.

Missing The Moment

You need to click at the exact moment your dog does the desired behavior.

If you click too early or too late, your dog will misunderstand what you want him to do and become confused.

Luring The Dog To Perform The Desired Behavior

The clicker is best used to “capture” and “shape” behaviors.

Capturing a behavior means waiting for your dog to independently choose to offer it.

Then you click to mark or “capture” it.

Shaping is a closely related technique where you use the click to reinforce or mark each small step towards a target behavior.

It’s a way of building a complex behavior through a series of baby steps.

So, for instance, if you want to teach your Boxer to sit in a box, you might start by clicking when he shows any interest at all in the box, even a glance.

Then you click when he touches the box with his nose, then when he puts one paw in the box, then two and so on and so on.

You’ll be surprised how far your Boxer will progress in a single session.

Capturing and shaping are different from luring.

Luring is where you present the food before the behavior has been performed, in order to induce your dog to do it.

Avoid luring or hinting or cueing in any way with your body language.

As the phenomenal dog trainer Mike Ritland teaches, it’s important to have a dog learn through self discovery.

Bribes and persuasion might induce the behavior faster in the short term, but they undermine your dog’s learning process.

Maybe you’ve already discovered how short-lived results produced this way can be.

Let your dog do it on his own, by making a conscious decision, not because of any kind of influence or trickery.

Have your body language be as neutral as possible, to the point that you’re really ignoring your dog and just waiting for him to offer the behavior.

Going Too Long

Keep training sessions short.

Finish on a high, before your dog’s interest wanes.

Better to do more short sessions than fewer long ones.

Aim for two or three per day at a minimum.

They can be as short as a couple of minutes for a puppy or as long as 15 for an adult, depending on the dog’s attention span and enjoyment levels.

Neglecting The Relationship

Clicker training should always be based upon a strong, stable bond between you and your Boxer.

You can build engagement through play and through simple time spent together, enjoying each other’s company.

Being Impatient

Using a clicker to train a Boxer by capturing and shaping behavior requires you to be more stubborn than your dog.

You will have to wait your dog out until he spontaneously offers the behavior you’re looking for.

Don’t be tempted to hurry things along by luring or influencing him with your body language.

A little patience now will pay off later.

If your Boxer seems a touch slow on the uptake at times, don’t give up.

A study examining clicker training in Boxers compared to Yorkshire Terriers and Chow Chows found “Initially, Boxers coped worst. However, after achieving the first success, achieving two consecutive successes was relatively easy for them.”

The Boxer learning curve is a little different to other breeds. A Border Collie he is not.

But once your Boxer cottons on, he’ll blow you away with his smarts.

But My Boxer Is Impossible To Teach!

Boxers are a working breed with good trainability and a willingness to work.

If you’re finding your Boxer is untrainable, take heart.

It just means you aren’t yet using the right technique.

One of the benefits of clicker training is that it’s not just easy for the dog to understand, it’s easy for the human trainer to understand.

All you have to do is look for clickable moments and reward them.

Can’t I Just Use Treats To Reward, Without The Click?

Clicking is superior to just treating in response to the desired behavior because of its precision and reach.

With a clicker you can:

  • Signal to your dog the split second he performs the desired behavior so your dog knows clearly what behavior earned the treat.
  • Reward your dog without interrupting the performance of the behavior, particularly useful for training behaviors that must be performed at a distance from you.
  • Avoid accidentally rewarding the wrong behavior because of a delay between the desirbed behavior and the dispensing of the treat.

Timing is important in dog training because the behavior that occurs immediately before the reward is the one that will be strengthened.

The clicker serves as a bridge between the desired behavior and the reward.

Do You Have To Use Food Rewards With A Clicker?

Food rewards are by far your best option because food plugs directly into your dog’s survival instinct.

Most dogs are food motivated and will work to earn food rewards moreso than for anything else.

If your dog isn’t food motivated, consider whether you might be overfeeding.

Arrange your Boxer’s day so that training sessions are done on an as empty a stomach as possible, not right after a hearty meal.

If you’re unable to use food for some reason, you could conceivably use anything your dog values highly. Some dogs might be willing to work for the toss of a ball or 30 seconds of tug.

Keep in mind you won’t be able to get as many reps in per session if the reward is more time consuming.

Praise alone is not enough when training new behaviors.

As owners, we tend to bestow praise liberally on our dogs — how often do you tell your Boxer he’s a “good boy” for doing nothing other than being adorable?

As a result, praise doesn’t provide as clear a communication or as much of an incentive as food rewards.

Why A Clicker Is Better Than Saying “Yes”

The click is an arbitrary sound albeit one that is proven to work.

You could potentially substitute anything that is distinct from the other ways you communicate with your dog, lick a cluck of the tongue or a snap of the fingers.

Clickers are more effective than simply using a marker word like “Yes” because a clicker makes a sound that is:

  • Short and sharp (much shorter than the time it takes to say even a short word like “Yes”
  • 100% consistent, unlike the many tones of the human voice, subtleties a dog is sensitive to and which can taint the communication
  • Able to bypass the thinking part of the brain to connect directly with the amygdala, a primitive part of the brain associated with feelings

How The “Click” Bypasses Your Dog’s Thinking Brain

The amygdala is a part of the limbic system, which is the oldest part of the brain.

Science tells us stimuli including bright lights and sudden sharp sounds, like the sound a clicker makes, bypass the thinking part of the brain (the cortex) and register straight with the amygdala.

The amygdala is associated with very rapid learning, retention and a surge of strong emotion.

The theory is that amygdala’s involvement allows the click to become a conditioned “joy” stimulus, one that is processed much faster than speech can be.

Even for humans who communicate with words, those words have to first be recognized, interpreted and processed before they can have an effect on behavior.

Happily, you don’t need to understand the neurological pathways at play.

All you need to know is that clicker training works, which you’ll see in the very first session if you give it a try.

Anecdotal evidence supports that clickers turbocharge dog training.

Clicker-trained dogs advance more rapidly and experience more success than dogs trained withotu the use of this simple technique.

Clicker Training For Deaf Boxers

For a deaf or hearing impaired Boxer, you can use a light in place of the click.

How To Choose A Good Clicker For Your Boxer

At its most basic, a clicker is a small plastic box with a metal plate inside, similar to the old-fashioned toy known as a tin cricket.

These days clickers have all kinds of designs.

Whichever one you choose, get one with a wrist strap.

It’s a good idea to buy a few to leave around the place, as they’re the kind of thing you might lose or misplace.

You never want to be without one as they are now the backbone of your Boxer’s training.

To complete the equipment you’ll need for clicker training, get a treat pouch.

Other than that, you’ll need nothing more than your Boxer’s regular flat collar or harness, and a short leash.

Much of your clicker training will actually be performed off leash, in a safe fenced area like your backyard — or even your living room.


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The Gear We Use

We use the Starmark Pro-Training Deluxe Clicker with wristband

and the Navaris Silicone Dog Treat Pouch with belt clip which we use because it’s so hygienic and easy to clean even when using fresh meat as treats.

Many clicker and treat pouch options are available online for low cost.

Former Navy SEAL Mike Ritland is a master of clicker training, which he covers, among other things, in his book Team Dog: How to Train Your Dog–the Navy SEAL Way.

Things You Can Use If You Don’t Have A Clicker

Clickers are just about the cheapest thing you’ll ever buy for your dog.

But you needn’t necessarily even buy a clicker to get started with clicker training.

Various other common household items can be used to make a “click” sound, such as:

  • A jar lid of the kind that pops up once the seal is broken
  • An empty pocket stapler
  • A retractable pen

Conclusion

Clicker training is a way for your Boxer to rapidly acquire behaviors that you might otherwise struggle to teach.

The basic premise underpinning this positive reinforcement technique is simple: rewarded behaviors will strengthen while unrewarded behaviors will weaken.

The clear communication provided by a clicker makes it possible to see results much faster than with other methods.

References

Susan Garrett, Shaping Success, Clean Run Productions, 2005

Karen Pryor, Amygdala: the Neurophysiology of Clicker Training, Karen Pryor Clicker Training, 2001

Mike Ritland, Team Dog: How To Train Your Dog The Navy SEAL Way, Putnam Publishing Group, 2016

Janusz Strychalski et al, Clicker Training Efficiency In Shaping The Desired Behavior In The Following Dog Breeds: Boxer, Chow Chow and Yorkshire Terrier, University of Warmia and Mazury, 2015

2 thoughts on ““Click!” Is This The Missing Link In Your Boxer’s Training?”

    • Hi Patsy, great to hear from you. I’ve just added near the bottom of the article a couple of pictures of the clicker and treat pouch we use. If you click on the links you can buy them quite cheaply online. Let us know how you go with your clicker training!

      Reply

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