This page is a companion to the clicker compilation that was created in the early days of the Click-Too-Guide list. List members have asked for clicker games we can play with our dogs so here it is. Playing games with our dogs is a great way to build confidence with the clicker and have fun doing it.
Let’s get going! I’m beginning with this simple targeting exercise. A dog who knows what to do with a target and who does it willingly, happily, and with alacrity can be taught a whole host of behaviors.
An easy game to get started with is a targeting game that I came up with for my last dog Payton. She did not play games with her toys so this was our version of chase the toy.
First, grab your target and hang it on a doorknob. Try to find a doorknob that you can back away from and still remain in sight of the door. A word of caution, plan all this out before hanging your target on the door. The last thing you want is for your dog to be wildly hitting the target and you are not ready to click and treat.
Okay, so you found the doorknob where you can hang your target. Get clicker and treats ready to go and hang the target. The clicker should be in your hand and your finger should be poised to click. You should be standing right next to the door so that all the dog has to do is hit the target and reach over to you to get the treat. The instant you hear the bell jangle, click, then you can offer the treat. Your dog should catch on fairly quick since it already knows how to target, If you haven’t used the clicker for a while, you may need to give it a little extra time.
Once the dog is confidently and quickly hitting the target, take a step away from the door after clicking. This will force your dog to take a step or two to you to get the treat. After you give the treat, stand in your place and quietly wait for your dog to go back to the door and hit the target. When you hear the bell, click again. Stay at this distance for a few reps to make sure your dog is still confidently doing the task. Then go ahead and take another few steps back once you see that your dog is anticipating the next touch. Whenever you add distance, try to do it after the click and somewhere around giving the dog a treat. This seems to be the least disruptive way to go about adding distance.
The game is to slowly build distance from the door so that your dog has to run back and forth between you and the door. I used to play this game with Payton in our den where there is a step up into the rest of the house. I’d build distance and then sit on the step while Payton would race back and forth to the door and back to me again. Some dogs may tire of this quickly but Payton was happy to do this over and over again.
A few tips:
*If you build distance too quickly, your dog may seem to lose interest or become frustrated if it doesn’t know what you want it to do. Some signs of frustration or confusion may be that your dog lies down, sniffs around, stands there not moving and licking its lips, etc. If, after about 30 seconds, your dog has not gone back to the target after you begin to build distance, then go back to the beginning and start all over again. This time build the distance more slowly.
*If you want to teach your dog to touch the target harder, withhold the click until the dog is really whacking at the target making the bell ring even louder.
*Replace the target with some other noise maker so when you build distance, you can still hear when your dog touches the door. I have a line of jingle bells attached to a leather strip that hangs at the front door for Pixie and it works great. I can back down the hallway and into another room and still be able to hear when she hits the door.
*Don’t turn these sessions into grueling training marathons. Each time you play this game, you only need to do it for 3-5 minutes. Training sessions with the clicker should always be short and fun. You want to leave off on a good note…don’t wait till both of you are so frustrated that you want to scream.
*Watch the food intake. When you play clicker games, the rate of reinforcement (number of times you treat your dog) should be high. Obviously you don’t want to get your dog fat so if you are playing a lot of games, then simply measure 1/4 cup of food out and deduct it from the dog’s next meal.
*When you come back to the doorknob game again, start from the beginning. You’ll be able to build up distance more quickly this time but don’t expect your dog to remember everything from the time before. Sometimes dogs seem like they get it and then the next day, it’s like they never did such a thing before.
*Choose your training site carefully.
*If you have low vision, find a place in the house where there is more light, or maybe a spot where the floor contrasts with your dog’s fur. If you can’t see much at all, consider finding a spot without carpeting so you can hear your dog’s paws moving around better. The more info you have on what your dog is doing, the easier it will make it for you.
*At first, try not to pick a spot that is in the midst of all the activity in your home. You want a boring place to work with your dog…in fact you want it so boring that your dog has nothing else to do but pay attention to you and the target. You can always go to a busier location once your dog knows the game.
Okay, good luck and I hope others will chip in if they have questions or notice that I missed something. Good luck,
Just thought I’d share another fun and mutually beneficial clicker game Miles and I started doing. I have a Roomba vacuum, which is great and very handy. Only trouble is that unless I’m supervising it, I don’t know where it ends up when it’s done vacuuming. It’s supposed to go back to its charging base, but it doesn’t usually find its way back there. So it’s just hanging out somewhere in the apartment, and finding it can be a challenge.
I had tried putting one of those remote-activated beeper things on it, but that didn’t work very well. So I decided to see if Miles could help me find it.
I first took a small bar of soap and taped it securely to the Roomba’s handle. I wanted Miles to be able to latch onto a strong scent, but not something he’d be interested in eating. Then, to give him the idea initially, I attached the treat pouch to the Roomba. Of course Miles wanted to go to that right away, and I clicked and treated when he sniffed it. I left the treat pouch on but started moving the Roomba around, just a few feet each time. I’d say “find Roomba,” and he’d sniff, and I clicked and treated, and then moved the Roomba to a new spot. I did this a bunch of times. Next, I put him behind closed doors in one room while relocating the Roomba somewhere new in the other room. I put his bell on him so I would know when he was getting near it. I let him out and told him to find Roomba, and of course he made a bee line to it because of the treat pouch.
Once he really had the hang of that, I took the treat pouch away and practiced having him find it without the pouch attached. Whenever he found it by sniffing it, I clicked and treated. So he started to get that what I wanted was for him to find the Roomba, whether it had a treat pouch attached or not. I notice that he zeros in on that little bar of soap I put on the Roomba handle because the masking tape is a little wet after he noses it and drewels on it a bit. So that might be a cue for him.
Anyway, now for practice, once a day I put him in one room, hide it in the other room, and have him find it. He loves the game because I always click and treat when he finds it. I know it’s not exactly guide dog work, but it’s a big help and saves me a lot of time wandering around the apartment looking for it and not finding it. The best part is the pure doggie joy he has when he finds it because he loves the game and loves the treat even more.
Hope everyone has a great holiday. Thanks for letting me share!
Catherine and Miles
What a great idea – asking your dog to find the vacuum is very clever!
You may want to stay away from using your treat bag as a lure though. Instead, you can hang your target on the vacuum to get the same behavior. (The dogs already know how targeting works since this is how they were trained to find objects at The Seeing Eye.)
It’s true that these two methods of “getting a behavior” (luring and targeting) have some similarities. Both a food lure and a touched target lead the dog into position. Both methods require an eventual fade of the lure or the target so that they don’t become the final cue for the behavior. And both carry a risk of the trainer becoming as dependent on the food lure or target as is the dog to complete the behavior.
Despite the apparent similarities, however, there is an essential difference between luring and targeting. Luring with food keeps the animal thinking about the reinforcement or the treat, while targeting gets the animal thinking about the task. As expert clicker trainer Ken Ramirez explains: “In luring, the animal is focused on the food. The trainer uses the food to guide the animal toward a desired behavior, just as a trainer would use a target to guide the animal. What goes on in the animal’s head, however, may be significantly different. Luring keeps the animal thinking about the reinforcement or the treat, while targeting gets the animal thinking about the task.”
In other words, while both methods may succeed in getting the behavior, a lured dog may be so focused on the treat that it is not aware of what behavior it has just accomplished to earn the reinforcement. Less learning, therefore, has been accomplished. A dog that follows a target, on the other hand, may still be working to receive a treat, but because the treat is not right in front of it, the dog must think about the actual behavior. The result is a dog that is more engaged in the process, has accomplished more learning, and is more able to apply that learning to any number of other behaviors.
Another expert clicker trainer explains the advantage of using targeting instead of luring as follows: “At its essence, targeting engages the animal’s mind, rather than its appetite. It allows the use of food to be maintained as a reinforcer of behavior, rather than a stimulant of behavior. And it enables trainers to be as creative as they wish, and to extend the applications of clicker training as far as they can imagine.”
Finally, one last comment on your post. You mentioned that even though finding the vacuum isn’t “guide work”, Miles is thrilled to have an opportunity to play the clicker game. You’re right on the mark here! Most dogs really love playing the clicker game and doing something fun with our dogs goes a long way in increasing the bond and communication with one another. It’s also a great chance for us to practice our mechanics and understanding of how to use the clicker without the added pressure of working the dog at the same time. And as you and your dog become more experienced with clicker training, you’ll find that the steps will move along much faster when applied to other behaviors.
Anyway, thanks so much for sharing and keep up the good work!
Yes you’re right that using the target would have been better. Only trouble is that the Roomba is a flat little machine that’s only about two inches high. So there was no good way to hang the target on it.
I guess I could have just taped it on and hoped he got the idea to go to the target even though the bell wasn’t hanging free. I did though pretty quickly take the treat bag away from the Roomba because I did want to make sure he understood that the game was all about finding the Roomba, not finding the treat pouch. He’s pretty sharp and picked up on that very quickly. So it all worked out, but I can see how overall keeping the emphasis on the target rather than the treat from the start would be better. Thanks for pointing this out. I have lots to learn about clicker training!
The Grocery Bag Game
Grab at least two plastic grocery bags. Bunch one or more into a loose ball and stuff into another plastic grocery bag. Tie the top of the bag into a knot. Don’t try to squeeze all of the air out or flatten the bags into a tight ball. The object is to have a loose bunch of bags contained in one bag so that even the slightest touch will make noise.
The advantage of using a grocery bag is that the plastic crinkles at the slightest touch and the crinkling sound is pretty loud.
Well okay, that was easy enough. Now comes the hard part – preparing the human!
We need to plan ahead and be ready. Remember, We are not going to tell or show the dog what to do anymore. We’re not going to lure the dog with our target either. We’re going to shape a behavior from scratch.
To begin, go to a quiet spot in the house where there are no distractions. Each time we teach our dogs something new, we want to make it as easy as possible for them to learn. Once Juno gets the hang of it, we can introduce other elements to the behavior such as distance, distractions, moving the game to other locations, etc. but for now, let’s keep it easy.
When training a new behavior, high value treats can be helpful for some dogs. It can also be helpful to train right before meal time. Once Juno starts getting it, we can lower the value of the treats. We can also mix high value and low value treats together to keep it interesting. When we talk about high vs low value treats, we’re talking about the type of treat that is used to motivate your dog to respond. For instance, a high value treat for me would be yellow cake with chocolate frosting (yum) and a low value treat might bea a cracker. For dogs, high value treats can be bits of cooked chicken, Zukes mini-naturals, cheese, etc. – basically whatever your dog is crazy about. Low value treats may be dog food pieces. Some dogs may be perfectly happy with dog food and may not ever need anything more. Also, some dogs may get so hyped if you use a high value treat that they can’t focus on the game. Each dog is different so you’ll have to experiment a bit to find out what works best for your dog.
Okay, we’re now ready to start the game. To begin, I like to plop down on the floor and toss the bag a foot or so from me. The instant my dog touches the bag, I hear plastic crinkle. Click, & treat. Be sure that you are ready to click as soon as you put the bag in reach of your dog. Your dog will likely go investigate the bag just because you just put it there. Right now the only game we’re playing is to teach your dog to go to the bag and touch it. If you have usable vision, you may be able to click if the dog even turns its head toward the bag, looks at the bag, etc.
This first session should be short, no more than 3-5 minutes and try to end on a positive note. When you first drop the bag, you may have to wait for several seconds before your dog will touch the bag. If the dog doesn’t touch the bag within 30 seconds or so, try moving the bag closer to the dog or just reaching over and dropping it again. Try not to talk to your dog or “show” it what to do…you’re trying to teach creativity and initiative here and allow your dog to figure it out so no hints please! Think about when you are concentrating on something that you are just learning, do you want someone right there babbling at you? No, most likely you want peace and quiet so you can think about how to figure things out.
Once the dog starts touching the bag confidently and enthusiastically, you’re ready to take the next step.
Now, think about what you want to do next. Maybe you want to shape another behavior or maybe you want to introduce distance? Shaping a behavior means that you try to get the dog to perform a new behavior one little step at a time. Just say you want the dog to learn how to pick up the grocery bag in its mouth. You start your new training session by letting your dog do a few bag touches and rewarding that behavior with a click and a treat. It’s always good to start each session with a quick review of the last session to be sure your dog is where you think you left off. When the dog has successfully touched the bag a few times, allow the dog to touch the bag but withhold the click. Yes, that’s right. Don’t click if you are trying to move your dog to the next step of the behavior. Just wait. Stay silent. Don’t click. Your dog will probably touch the bag again and wait for the click…nothing. Hmm, says the dog, I’ve been touching this stupid bag and getting a click but now that’s not working….what else can I do to get a click and a treat? This is where your dog will hopefully offer you another behavior…it might be that the dog will paw the bag, lick the bag, mouth the bag, etc. If you have some sight, be sure to use contrast, lighting, etc. to enhance your ability to determine if your dog offers you another behavior besides touching the bag with its nose. If you have no usable vision, not to worry…your dog will still get where you want it to go, it just might take a little longer. Pay close attention to how the plastic sounds when your dog interacts with it so you’ll be able to figure out if something different is going on.
When I played this game with Payton, she went from touching to grabbing the bag in her mouth. I clicked for that behavior. We did several short sessions of her picking up the bag and releasing it almost as quickly…I clicked/treated after each rep so she would get the hang of picking up the bag in her mouth. The next session I held off on the click to get her to do more than hold the bag for a split second. Payton started grabbing the bag in her mouth and whipping it at me. Click/treat several times. I kept rewarding each behavior several times before moving on to the next little step. Eventually I started slowly stepping back from the bag so she’d have to pick it up and bring it to me so she could whip it at me. In the end, Payton would parade up and down our apartment hallway with the bag dangling out of her mouth. I never put a cue to this behavior – she just knew when she saw the grocery bags all bunched up that we were going to play the game.
Now, when I first started playing the grocery bag with Pixie, I got her to the point where she would readily touch the bag so I moved on to trying to get her to pick up the bag in her mouth. This was going splendidly until I realized that not only was she picking up the bag, but I’d been clicking her while she was also tearing up the bag. Sigh. (I have no vision so it can be a bit tricky to get where I want at times.) Anyway since I didn’t want to teach her to shred bags, I waited a few days before starting up the game again and this time I paid more attention so that we got past destroying the bag and instead got to the point where she would bring the bag to me.
Now, some of you may be baffled as to why I’m teaching my dog to pick up plastic bags. The truth is that it’s a good way for both me and the dog to practice timing, clicker mechanics and communicating with one another. We’re teaching the dog to problem solve, take initiative, build up confidence and we’re strengthening the bond with our dogs. And, in the end, it all crosses over to guide work and helps our teamwork go much more smoothly.
BTW, I came up with this clicker game after reading expert clicker trainer Karen Pryor’s 101 things to do with a box. I didn’t have enough vision to play the box game with my dog so I modified her suggestion by using a grocery bag. Perhaps someone else may have some suggestions as to other props we could use. Check out Karenn Pryor’s article below.
A Good Exercise for an Older, Suspicious, or Previously Trained Dog
This training game is derived from a dolphin research project in which I and others participated, “The creative porpoise: training for novel behavior,”
published in the Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior in 1969. It has become a favorite with dog trainers. It’s especially good for “crossover”
dogs with a long history of correction-based training, since it encourages mental and physical flexibility and gives the dog courage to try something on
Take an ordinary cardboard box, any size, cut the sides down to about three inches, and put the box on the floor. Click the dog for looking at the box.
Treat. If the dog goes near or past the box, even by accident, click. Next, after you click, toss the treat near or in the box. If the dog steps toward
the box to get the treat, click the step and toss another treat. If he steps into the box, great, click again, even if he is eating his previous treats,
and offer him another treat in your hand.
Sometimes you can cook up a lot of “box action” in a hurry, this way: Click for stepping toward or in the box. Alternately toss the treat in the box and
hold the treat out in your hand so the dog has to come back to you. If the dog is reluctant to step in the box, and so doesn’t eat that treat, it doesn’t
matter: he knows he got it. If treats accumulate in the box, fine. When he does step into the box, he’ll get a jackpot. If you decide to stop the session
before that happens, fine. Pick up the treats in the box, and put them away for a later session. Remember, never treat without clicking first, and always
click for a reason: for some action of the dogs.
If you need more behavior to click, you can move yourself to different parts of the room so the box is between you and the dog, increasing the likelihood
of steps in the direction of the box. Don’t call the dog, don’t pat the box, don’t chat, don’t encourage the dog, and don’t “help” him. All of that stuff
may just make him more suspicious. Click foot movements toward the box, never mind from how far away, and then treat. If you get in five or six good clicks,
for moving in the direction or near or past the box, never mind from how far away, and then treat. If you get in five or six good clicks, for moving in
the direction or near or past the box, and then the dog “loses interest” and goes away, fine. You can always play “box” again later. In between sessions,
the reinforcements you did get in will do their work for you; each little session will make things livelier the next time.
You are, after all, teaching your dog new rules to a new game. If you have already trained your dog by conventional methods, the dog may be respecting the
general rule, “Wait to be told what to do.” So the first rule of this new game, “Do something on your own, and I will click,” is a toughie. In that case,
the box game is especially valuable, and the first tiny steps are especially exciting – although they would be invisible to an onlooker, and may right
now seem invisible to you.
End the first session with a “click for nothing” and a jackpot consisting of either a handful of treats, or a free grab at the whole bowl. Hmm. That’ll
get him thinking. The next time that cardboard box comes out, he will be alert to new possibilities. Clicks. Treats. Jackpots. “That cardboard box makes
my Person behave strangely, but on the whole, I like this new strangeness. Box? Something I can do, myself? With that box?” Those are new ideas, but they
If your dog is very suspicious, you may need to do the first exercise over again once, or twice, or several times, until he “believes” something a human
might phrase thus: “All that is going on here is that the click sound means my Person gives me delicious food. And the box is not a trap, the box is a
signal that click and treat time is here if I can just find out how to make my Person click.”
Whether these things occur in the same session or several sessions later, here are some behaviors to click. Click the dog for stepping in the box; for pushing
the box, pawing the box, mouthing the box, smelling the box, dragging the box, picking up the box, thumping the box – in short, for anything the dog does
with the box.
Remember to click WHILE the behavior is going on, not after the dog stops. As soon as you click the dog will stop, of course, to get his treat. But because
the click marked the behavior, the dog will do that behavior again, or some version of it, to try to get you to click again; so you do not lose the behavior
by interrupting it with a click.
You may end up in a wild flurry of box-related behavior. GREAT! Your dog is already learning to problem-solve in a creative way. If you get swamped, and
can’t decide which thing to click, just jackpot and end the session. Now YOU have something to think about between sessions.
You may on the other hand get a more methodical, slow, careful testing by the dog: the dog carefully repeats just what was clicked before. One paw in the
box, say. Fine: but right away YOU need to become flexible about what you click, or you will end up as a matched pair of behavioral bookends. Paw, click.
Paw, click. Paw, click. That is not the way to win this game.
So, when the dog begins to offer the behavior the same way, repeatedly, withhold your click. He puts the paw out, you wait. Your behavior has changed; the
dog’s behavior will change too. The dog might keep the paw there longer; fine, that’s something new to click. He might pull it out; you could click that,
once or twice. He might put the other paw in, too…fine, click that. Now he may try something new.
And? Where do we go from here? Well, once your dog h as discovered that messing around with the box is apparently the point of this game, you will have
enough behavior to select from, so that you can now begin to click only for certain behaviors, behaviors which aim towards a plan. It’s as if you had a
whole box of Scrabble letters, and you are going to start selecting letters that spell a word. This process is part of “shaping.”
Variations and final products: What could you shape, from cardboard box behaviors?
Get in the box and stay there. Initial behavior: Dog puts paw in box. Click, toss treats. Then don’t click, just wait and see. Maybe you’ll get two paws
in box. Click. Now get four paws in box. Get dog in box. Options: Sitting or lying in box; staying in box until clicked; staying in box until called, then
clicked for coming.
Put the dog to bed. Put the dog in its crate. Let children amuse themselves and make friends with the dog by clicking the dog for hopping into a box and
out again (works with cats, too.) One third grade teacher takes her Papillion to school on special events days, in a picnic basket. When the basket is
opened, the dog hops out, plays with the children, and then hops back in again.
Behavior: Carry the Box
Initial behavior: dog grabs the edge of the box in its teeth and lifts it off the floor.
Millions. Carry a box. Carry a basket. Put things away: magazines back on the pile. Toys in the toy box. A dog that has learned the generalized or generic
rule, “Lifting things in my mouth is reinforceable,” can learn many additional skills.
Behavior: Tip the Box over onto Yourself
I don’t know what good this is, but it’s not hard to get: it crops up often in the “101 things to do with a box” game. If the dog paws the near edge of
the box hard enough, it will flip.
My Border Terrier, Skookum, discovered that he could tip the livingroom wastebasket (wicker, bowl-shaped, empty) over on himself, so that he was hidden
inside it. Then he scooted around in there, making the wastebasket move mysteriously across the floor. It was without a doubt the funniest thing any of
our dinner guests had ever seen a dog do. Since terriers love being laughed with (but never At) clicks and treats were not necessary to maintain the behavior
once he had discovered it; and he learned to wait until he was invited to do it, usually when we had company.
I finally got around to playing this game with Kismet. I followed Ginger’s instructions exactly, plopped down on the floor with grocery bag and a small bowl of treats with Kismet sitting before me. I dropped my wad of grocery bags and Kismet immediately touched the bags with her nose. Click and treat. During this first session I shaped only that behavior, touching the bags.
The next session, I clicked for touching the bag three times and then withheld the click. I wanted to get the behavior to the next stage, picking up the bag in her mouth. It was actually pretty funny. The first time I withheld the click I could visualize Kismet whipping her head back and forth between me and the bag, like, “C’mon, what’s the deal? You’re spozed to do your part in this here game!”
At the end of the second session I had Kismet reliably picking up the bag in her mouth. I should note that sitting on the floor made it a lot easier to tell when the bag was no longer on the floor but in Kismet’s mouth. I’m not sure it would have been as easy had I been standing up.
The third session was a piece of cake. I swear it was like Kismet was reading my mind. When I withheld the click when she picked up the bag she just brought it right to me. And that was that.
At the end of the third session I praised her and let her lick the bowl the treats had been in to indicate that the game was over. She licked the bowl and promptly snatched the bag out of my hand. The little darling wanted more!
Thanks for this great game!
Just dropping in to share a fun game to keep you and your dog occupied on these freezing cold days! The game is called “Find it” and comes from Debbie Jones, a clicker trainer and the author of “Clicker Fun.” She writes:
“Learning can be fun. It’s not necessarily a serious endeavor. In particular, when teaching your dog tricks and playing games, it’s hard to take yourself too seriously.
After all, it’s not brain surgery. Nobody dies if you make mistakes. If your dog doesn’t grasp the concept of `high five’, it’s just not that big of a deal. When learning becomes difficult, both people and dogs try to avoid it. And who can blame them? I’d rather take a walk than do calculus.
Many dogs would rather play fetch than practice heeling.
I believe that the key is to make the work seem like play. If it’s fun, everybody enjoys the process. Plus, you enhance your relationship with your pet and end up with a trained dog. What could be better?”
And here’s the excerpt from her book that describes how to play the game. As always, some modifications may be needed depending on how well you see. I use Pixie’s big yellow squeaky duck and although it makes noise, it isn’t always obvious to me when Pixie initially finds the toy since it doesn’t always squeak when she picks it up. Sometimes I ask her to sit/stay in one room while I go off into the other room to hide the toy. She waits until I call her to come and then dashes into the room and starts racing madly around as she hunts for the toy. Oh, one more thing, when I first started to train her to play the game, I used the clicker to mark when she found the toy. Once she got the hang of what I wanted her to do, I faded out the clicker and simply used the toy as her reward. Good luck and have fun!
. This trick is a good way to start teaching your dog to use her nose as well as her eyes to find things. First, pick a toy that your dog already plays with often and is willing to retrieve to use as your ‘find’ object. I use a Kong toy for this because of its distinctive shape and size. Have your dog `sit’ and `wait’. Show your dog the toy, allowing her to sniff it as well as see it. Use an excited and enthusiastic tone and manner to motivate her. Place the toy on the floor about five feet in front of your dog and encourage her to `find it’. This should be easy for your dog. As soon as she reaches down to sniff or pick up the toy, CT. If your dog is already a good retriever, you can ask her to bring the toy back to you. If not, work on retrieves separately before adding them to the game.
Once your dog understands the concept of `finding’ her toy when it’s in plain sight,
you can start making the game more challenging.
Put the toy under a blanket or pillow while your dog watches. Have your dog wait while you place the toy just around a corner. Make the hiding places progressively harder. Hide the toy on a dining room chair or in the bathtub. When the toy is no longer in plain sight your dog will have to start relying on her sense of smell to ‘find it’.