Tuesday Tips for Tired Trainers: #5 Clickers at Hand

Quite a while back, I said I wanted to do a series of Tips for Tired Trainers. I didn’t realize it was going to be so hard to keep the notes visible and updated on Facebook, so I’ve decided to try to do a regular feature on my blog — just short posts of tips. Since I already have a Wednesday and Thursday feature, I thought I’d do Tuesday Tips for Tired Trainers. As with the other features, I probably won’t manage to do it every week, but I’ll do my best.

I already posted several tips as a page here, but I have so many now (I’ve been working on a document on my own), that I think breaking it up and doing it as a series will work better. I am actually hoping to eventually turn this into a book.

I really encourage comments and feedback. If you have a chronic illness or an intermittent or time-limited source of fatigue (such as migraines or chemotherapy), I’d really like to hear from you: What are the most challenging skills to train when you’re exhausted? Or general dog-stewardship issues affected by the limiting effects of fatigue?

Here is one of the tips that was not included in the tips page I link to above.

5. Have clicker, will travel — or stay put!

I try to have clickers wherever I go. Searching for clickers uses valuable physical and mental energy. I have one or more on a wrist coil on my powerchair joystick, and then I also have them in every room of the house (including bathrooms) and in the car. You can also keep one on a cord around your neck, around your wrist on a coil, or in your pocket (see below about potential issues arising from i-Clicks in pockets). This makes it easier to do short sessions on the fly and to capture behaviors.

Which Clicker Do YOU Click With?

It’s good to try out different styles of clickers to see which work best for you. I usually use a box clicker on a wrist coil or on a finger loop for most of my training, but if I’m doing something near Barnum’s head/ears, I might choose the Clik-R or the i-Click because they’re quieter.

The box clickers works best for me (as long as they have either a finger loop or a wrist coil attachment) because…

  • I’m less likely to lose them.
  • They seem sturdier and last longer/put up with more abuse.
  • My timing is better with them. I don’t know why, but I find myself clicking late more often with the i-Click. This doesn’t just reduce effectiveness of training, but it causes me physical and mental stress, which adds up to more fatigue.
  • If I have an i-Click in a pocket, on my lap, or on my joystick and I accidentally bump into it or bend over onto it, etc., it clicks! Then I have to pay up, even though there was not necessarily any desirable behavior occurring at that time!

That said, not all box clickers are created equal. The ones from ClickerTraining.com or Clean Run are the best, in my experience. I once got some from PetCo, and they are much bigger and it takes more force to make the sound (depress the metal part).

Large bright red clicker with keychain loop.

I do not recommend the PetCo clicker.

They are also very loud – and have a particularly concussive quality, which can be useful if the dog is at a distance, but for people with neurological issues, might be intolerable. The difficulty of depressing the metal part (and the delay this causes in clicking) make them my least favorite clicker. I use them as backups, only.

There are also many benefits to push-button clickers. The most well-known is Karen Pryor’s i-Click.

Circle of red, geen, blue, and black i-Clicks. These are oval-shaped clickers with a yellow button sticking out at one end, and a thin molded plastic loop at the other end. There is an indentation below the button to rest your thumb between clicks.

The i-Click is immensely popular, especially with novice trainers and those who like to use it as a foot clicker to keep their hands free.

The other external-button clickers I’m familiar with are the Clik-R (made by Premier) and the StarMark clicker.

The i-Click and Clik-R are quieter than most box clickers, which might be helpful for people with neurological conditions who find loud clicks jarring. They are easier to use and manipulate for some people with hand coordination or strength issues. (The Clik-R is particularly sensitive to a light touch.)

Purple clicker, a fat oval around a small green external button and then a thick rectangular "neck" below with a molded loop for attaching a string, coil, or key-chain. On the back is a thick green elastic loop. Below the button, in neon green are the words "Clik-R" and in smaller letters, "Premier."

The Clik-R by Premier.

The StarMark clicker is larger and louder than the i-Click, and may fit better into the palm of the hand for some who want something more substantial and grippable.

A large royal blue, egg-shaped clicker with an orange button at the fatter part and a sturdy plastic loop at the bottom for attaching a cord or loop.

This clicker is good if you want a large and very loud button clicker.

The button clickers also have the advantage of being easily usable with body parts other than the hands. They can be used in the mouth, under foot, taped to an armrest and whacked with the heel of your palm, etc. It all depends on what works for you.

Sue Ailsby turns her box clickers into toe clickers by cutting off part of the top so she can put her big toe in the clicker. If you have better foot than hand control, this might be a good option for you, although most who have good foot control like to tape an i-Click to the floor or a wheelchair footrest and click it by pressing their foot down.

You can also modify a box clicker by gluing a “button” (a peg of some sort, such as a one-half inch piece of dowel or the end of a wooden spoon) where you would normally press with your finger.

The main thing is to test out what works while training. Don’t be afraid to tell your dog “Gimme a break” (see tip #2 in previous post) while you switch clickers to see if a different type will work better for you.

Also, even clickers made by the same company will vary slightly in sound and ease of clicking; like dogs and people, while the “breed” may give you a sense of what to expect, individuals always vary. Test them out to find which one is the easiest for you. I have a particular favorite box clicker from Karen Pryor Clicker Training that makes a nice “pop” with very little pressure, which is not as true of the other clickers I got in that same batch.

There are also finger clickers — which just have a little elastic loop on one end of a box clicker, that make it easier to have “in hand,” which you can get from Clean Run.

A box clicker, blue on top and white underneath. The bottom has a cartoon of a dog creeping toward a starting line and the words, "Clean Run" underneath with the company phone number. At the top end of the clicker is a blue elastic band, the same kind as a hair elastic.

I am fond of my finger clickers.

The Clik-R has an elastic loop for your finger to go in, but I find it cuts off my circulation unless I use a really small finger or just a finger tip. If you have particularly thin fingers, this might not be an issue for you. If you are crafty — and have the energy! — you might even want to make one for yourself that does fit your fingers, as Michele  Fry explains, here. This is the solution if the Clik-R doesn’t fit your hand or finger, but you want an elastic loop on the back of a standard size and shape box clicker.

The cheapest way to keep clickers wherever you need them is to buy several at once (such as from ClickerTraining.com). The more you order at once, the cheaper they are. If you have friends who train as well, you can go in on an order together and save on shipping, too. If you can’t afford to buy several clickers, and you are able to go to stores or dog events, you can ask test out various clickers and see what works for you before you buy or order new ones.

I hope you find a solution that clicks!

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT and clicker aficionado

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12 Responses to “Tuesday Tips for Tired Trainers: #5 Clickers at Hand”


  1. 1 brilliantmindbrokenbody August 2, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    My school gave us i-clicks; I’ve really never thought about getting anything else. I don’t think box clickers would work for me, as reducing strain on my finger joints is really important. (For reference, I have trouble with standard keyboards causing me pain in the finger joints. I have to push the buttons on microwaves and elevators and so on with knuckles rather than fingertips or I hurt myself.) Hmm, I may think about a Clik-R if they’re relatively sensitive. To use my i-click, I usually hold it curled in the palm of my hand with the smooth side against my fingers and the button against the base of my thumb. My hand therapist doesn’t like that as my thumbs are pretty unstable, but it’s often the least painful position for me. Otherwise I sometimes hold it so it’s sticking out of my fist and use my thumb to press the button.

    I’ve actually switched mostly to voice instead of clicking at this point with Hudson. I know from a training perspective that isn’t ideal, but it’s much easier for me to say “yay!” than to click on the right timing.

  2. 2 Sharon Wachsler August 3, 2011 at 12:30 am

    The Clik-R might work for you. I know some people with hand issues who like it a lot. For me, I find it more difficult to use. I only use it when I need something really quiet for if the clicking is bugging Betsy.

    I don’t know how your foot coordination is. I could never do this, but for people who have the strength, energy, and coordination in their legs and feet, putting the i-click on the ground (taping it to the ground or gluing it to a board) works very well.

    I use a verbal marker a lot of the time, too. Eiether because I don’t have a clicker in hand, or because I need my hands to do other things. Actually that’s the next tip on the list — verbal markers! And the next tip after that is visual markers. If I don’t have or can’t use a clicker, and my voice isn’t working, I use a visual marker. I use a thumbs up signal. The dog has to be looking at you for this to work, but it also teaches the dog to look at you!

  3. 3 Mary August 3, 2011 at 11:02 am

    One of my dogs who was abused as a puppy is frightened by even the moderate sound of a regular clicker. Usually a verbal marker works well enough, but for shaping and other precision training I use a metal juice glass bottle top as a clicker. Knudsen’s quart bottle tops are good. They have a pop-up center that indicates if the seal is broken. Pressing this “button” produces a soft click that Doodle Bug prefers. I tape it to my palm during training sessions and press it with my middle finger.

  4. 4 Sharon Wachsler August 3, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Hi Mary,

    Yes, that’s a good tip. Some people also use ballpoint pens, or muffle their clicker in a piece of cloth or inside a deep pocket. Some people also make a click with their mouth, though I have found I can’t do this with the precision of a hand-held clicker, and it would get too tiring for my mouth after a while.

  5. 5 Courtenay August 3, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Some training centres buy clickers in large enough amounts that they are VERY cheap, so asking around, you can sometimes get a free one, or buy them for just a few cents.
    I do know of many training places that will give out clickers (with their business info on for advertising) to people who ask, so it’s worth asking if that’s something someone needs!

  6. 6 Sharon Wachsler August 3, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Great tip, Courtenay! Thank you!

  7. 7 Karyn August 5, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    There’s a couple options I can think of. Some people put the i-click inside a pouch and push down on a hard surface to click it- ie an armrest, table etc. I still have trouble with it this way so I opt for the party favor (usually available in insect/ animal type) clickers. I got my last ones from smilemakers but there are other sources as well. These are tiny in size, don’t have the durability of the larger clickers, but are much easier for me to click and might be easier on your hands as well. Note the word *might*
    Some people opt to just make clicking sounds with their mouth. I have a friend whose son could do this exceptionally well, but I can’t so much.

  8. 8 Sharon Wachsler August 5, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Karyn, Thanks so much for adding this! I can’t believe after that whole discussion on the other list about the party favor clickers! Probably because I don’t have them in front of my face, I forget they exist.

  9. 9 brilliantmindbrokenbody August 7, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Ah, but then I have to have something hard to smash the clicker into. I have attempted using my hipbones for that, but that was painful. I tried using the handle of Hudson’s harness and he really didn’t like that. After that, I gave up because I didn’t have something that was always with me that I could use.

    I can’t do a mouth click as a training tool because while I can make a great variety of sounds, I can’t repeat clicks often because they put too much stress on the mandibular joint (jaw).

    I’ll have to consider whether the clik-r or the party favor clickers is a better option to try; in the meantime, Hudson is pretty used to me using voice at this point. I still have to use the clicker if I go out to training classes at the school because that is their way of doing things and they’re insistant about it, but Hudson and I have been on voice since pretty soon after we came home.

    I’ve also noticed that he’s just as happy to accept verbal praise and petting if I am exhuberant enough as he is to accept treats, which is useful as I am forgetful and don’t always remember them, especially when we go out. I know the automatic response you’re going to have, Sharon, that I should have bags of them everywhere, but we are having MAJOR mouse problems right now, to the point where all food has to be in plastic tubs. Plastic tubs are hard for me to get into and harder to find places for than the baggies of treats I have used in the past!

    ~Kali

  10. 10 Sharon Wachsler August 7, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    LOL, no, that’s not my automatic response. In fact, we’re having an ant problem, and I worry about pieces of food that don’t get immediately eaten or cleaned up. My philosophy is that you use whatever works. Barnum doesn’t seem to care about praise most of the time, although occasionally he does, which is difficult, because I never know if it will “pay.” But my BCx and Jersey both responded a lot to praise, so if Hudson cares a lot about praise, terrific! Thank goodness for small blessings!

  11. 11 brilliantmindbrokenbody August 10, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Oop, I guessed wrong! I just figured that since you talk about having treats everywhere that would be what you’d think – guess it shows what good assumptions do us!

    I’ve noticed that a relatively high-pitched ‘ooh’ is his favorite noise, so I alternate between that sound, ‘good dog/boy’, and include a lot of ruffling his neck and under his chin, which are his favorite places to be petted. It seems to work well, especially when he’s not in harness. When he’s in harness, he doesn’t react to it as much, so I really ought to be more careful about carrying treats then.


  1. 1 Tuesday’s Tip for Tired Trainers: #6 Verbal Markers « After Gadget Trackback on August 10, 2011 at 2:08 am
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