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For over 30 years, the clicker has been a major player in the world of positive-reinforcement dog training. A clicker is a small, hand-held device that, as its name suggests, makes a “click” sound when you push a button or metal tab. Because that sound is so distinct, it’s an unmistakable signal that lets your dog know the moment they got a behavior right. If they sit, you click when their butt hits the ground. If they come when called, you click when they reach you.
The magic of the clicker, however, isn’t necessarily the sound itself. It’s in the association that a dog makes between the click and the reward that follows. If each click is followed by a motivating treat, tug, or snuggle, then your dog becomes conditioned to form a positive association with the sound. Over time, the click becomes a secondary reinforcer, too.
There are a handful of different styles of clickers available. The classic version—a metal tab encased in a plastic shell—tends to be the loudest while those completely made of plastic with an easy-to-push button are generally on the quieter side, making them a better option for noise-sensitive or high-anxiety dogs. A good clicker should also have a wrist strap (or at least a way to attach your own) so that you can keep it close when your hands are otherwise engaged.
Clickers are super helpful tools but as a professional dog trainer with a decade of experience, I also know that for some novice trainers, they can be more trouble than they’re worth. (For tips on how to use one at home, see my article “The Secret to Clicker Training: How to Make It Work for You and Your Dog”).
The good news is, you don’t need a clicker to get the positive impact that comes from marking a behavior. Choosing a consistent, short marker word or using another sound like a whistle or squeaky works just as well. For deaf dogs, visual markers such as hand-signals or a flashing light can replace a clicker.
The following clickers and markers are my favorites for training dogs of all types—young and old, deaf and hearing, noise-sensitive and confident.
The 6 Best Dog Training Clickers According to a Professional Dog Trainer
These plastic clickers have an easy-to-push button and an easy-to-hold design. I’m a fan of the clip on the bungee-cord strap which allows you to wear it around your wrist or clip it to a key ring or treat bag so it’s always handy. This is also one of the louder plastic clickers, producing a clear, consistent sound that can be heard even in high distraction environments. Best of all, EcoCity clickers come with a lifetime warranty and money-back guarantee!
If you’re not sold on the hand-held clicker but want a marker sound more distinct than your voice, try a dog whistle. The Acme can be used just like a clicker, blowing a short puff of air each time your dog gets a behavior right and following it with a reward. The Acme is waterproof, made of high-quality plastic, and can be attached to a cord to wear around the neck.
If you have a hearing-impaired dog, you’ll need a visual marker instead of an audible one. Small, handheld flashlights with an easy-to-press button work great in low-light environments and in the home (they won’t be very useful outdoors in direct sunlight, unfortunately). This version from Stanley has a rubber-coated anti-slip grip, weighs less than an ounce, is waterproof, and stands up to frequent dropping. The clip hook allows you to attach this flashlight to a wrist or neck strap or to hook it to a treat bag or keychain.
Even with a wrist strap, clickers have the tendency to disappear. I’m forever leaving them behind. That’s one major reason I like the Coolrunner clicker—it’s super-affordable and is sold in multi-packs. The Coolrunner is also easy to click and its yellow bungee cord strap and bright color selections are helpful when you’re trying to dig one out from the bottom of a bag.
This version of the classic metal-tab clicker is very loud, making it a helpful tool for marking behaviors in high-distraction environments. Unlike the plastic button clickers, the way you press on the classic metal clickers has to be very firm and direct, with just the right amount of pressure to emit the clicking sound, which makes them a little trickier for novice trainers. If you’re just learning how to use a clicker efficiently, you may want to stick with a plastic clicker with an easy-to-press button.
6. “Yes!” and other marker words
Don’t underestimate the power of your voice as a marker! Your marker word should be short and easy to say, three to four letters max (“good boy” or “good girl” is too long for a marker word). I, and many of the trainers I know, use the word “Yes!” to mark the moment that a dog sits, comes, or gets another behavior right. Used consistently paired with a reward, a verbal marker is just as effective as a mechanical one.
I’ve been writing for Rover for years, offering tools, tips, and tricks of the dog training trade to those in the Rover community who are looking to work constructively, and better, with their dogs. For more about clicker and positive-reinforcement dog training, check out my articles, “The Secret to Clicker Training: How to Make It Work for You and Your Dog,” and “How and Why to Use Rewards in Dog Training.”