ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Deal with a Dog Scared of the Clicker

Updated on April 6, 2019
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Dealing with a dog scared of the clicker requires a specific approach. We know most dogs love clicker training, but what about those dogs who appear to be scared of the clicker?

It may sound odd, but as a trainer, I occasionally stumble on a dog who cowers the moment he hears the sound of the clicker. These dogs need help to reap the rewards of clicker training. Fortunately, there are several things that can be done to help a dog scared of the clicker.

A Lesson in Classical Conditioning

We know most dogs love clicker training, but what about those dogs who appear to be scared of the clicker? It may sound odd, but as a trainer, I occasionally stumble on a dog who cowers the moment he hears the sound of the clicker.

We are taught in training school that clicker training is a training method based on the scientific principles of classical conditioning, and as such, once implemented correctly, dogs should respond enthusiastically because they have associated the noise of the clicker with a reward, so what gives?

Let's take a closer look at what goes on in dogs who seem to love the clicker and dogs who seem to dread it.

If you ever studied Pavlov's dogs in school, you will remember how this Russian physiologist stumbled on a curious dynamic while he was conducting experiments on dogs by observing their digestive glands and their response to food. Basically, a bell was sounded several times during the day and food was presented to the dogs right afterward.

After several times of doing this, Pavlov noticed that the dogs started salivating just at the sound of the bell. What happened is that initially the sound of the bell was something the dogs never really cared about, and as such, did not produce a response (neutral stimulus), but after learning that the sound was paired with food, the sound became a conditioned stimulus and triggered drooling which was called a conditioned response.

Soon, Pavlov noticed that he could replicate the conditioned response by exposing the dogs to other neutral stimuli by pairing them with food as well. Soon, the neutral stimulus became a conditioned stimulus that generated a conditioned response, so the dogs were now drooling upon hearing different sounds and even after seeing the white lab coats of scientists! Pavlov was so thrilled after making this great discovery that he decided to devote the rest of his career studying this type of learning.

Clicker Training is About Positive Associations

Back to clicker training, when we pair a clicker with food, we see the same Pavlovian effects. The clicker at first is something the dog cares less about (neutral stimulus); indeed, after all, dogs have lived and thrived all their lives without its use, but wait till you pair the noise with food, a process trainers call "loading the clicker or charging the clicker." At that point, wonderful things happen when it becomes a conditioned stimulus.

Repetition after repetition, you will see a conditioned response. Your dog may drool at the sound of the clicker, smack his lips and he'll start looking for the food. You may even see a tail wag and the eyes brightening up.

However, this isn't always the norm. And this is why you really cannot use a cookie-cutter approach to train all dogs.

The Clicker Noise it Too Loud and Aversive

As mentioned, for some dogs, the clicker is likely NOT a neutral stimulus.Their response to the sound of the clicker is not the typical: "who cares about it, I have no interest whatsoever in that noise, why are you even clicking that thing, to me it's the equivalent of the birds chirping and crickets singing."

Instead, to these sensitive dogs the noise is aversive, meaning they find it scary and intimidating. Unlike the average dog who cares less, these dogs WILL pay attention to the noise; but not because it's intriguing, but because they are terrified of it and dread the thought of you making it again. Some dogs will even cower and run to hide!

Dog Scared of the Clicker?

If your dog is scared of the clicker, you may have to use an alternative method for marking desired behaviors.
If your dog is scared of the clicker, you may have to use an alternative method for marking desired behaviors.

Why are Some Dogs Scared of the Clicker?

I have found that there are two possible explanations for their behaviors.

1) The dogs may have never heard anything similar to that noise in their lives, so their response is the natural response you typically see in dogs who are neophobic, meaning scared of new things and/or scared of the unknown

2) Notice how in the above paragraphs I mentioned how likely the clicker sound isn't a neutral stimulus. There's a reason why I used the tentative word "likely." I believe that in some cases, the clicker noise isn't as neutral as thought, instead the dog finds it similar to other noises heard in the past that may have been potentially paired with negative experiences.

For example, a dog that was corrected in the past by using frightening sounds (think coins in a jar) and may startle at similar noises due to these past negative experiences.

Whatever the cause of the fear of the clicking noise (we may really never know as dogs are spared from the gift of talking), we know that we may be stuck with a problem if our goal is to clicker train.

Should we give up clicker training altogether and not reap the rewards associated with this training technique? No, fortunately, there are several options for you. We will see them in the next paragraphs.

Tips for Helping Dogs Scared of the Clicker Sound

So you are stuck with a dog midly fearful of the clicker sound, now what? In such a case, we can sometimes borrow some behavior modification techniques to create new pleasant associations.

I sometimes treat clicker sensitivity as other situations where certain stimuli have assumed negative connotations. If your dog is fearful of noises in general, you will find that you may succeed by using my "hear that" behavior modification method.

Back to clicker training, in order to succeed, we may use desensitization and counterconditioning to our advantage. This may be more advice for professional trainers or very mild cases of fear (skip these methods and go straight to a verbal marker if your dog is stressed by noises to the point he can't focus).

In desensitization, we are exposing dogs gradually and systematically to stimuli they have found scary in the past. If you are scared of spiders, you'll likely do much better if I show you pictures of spiders at first versus letting you have one crawl in your hand from the get-go. So to make the noise of the clicker less scary, I will need to find ways to make its sound less intense.

In addition, I will start pairing the noise with high-value treats so to create positive associations, a process known as counterconditioning.

Dog Clicker Too Loud? How to Quiet a Dog Clicker

There are several strategies to quiet a dog clicker. A good one is by simply placing the clicker in a pocket. The pocket will help muffle the sound and make it less intimidating towards sensitive dogs.

At a first glance, it may appear like I am just engaging in plain and simple classical conditioning--which is what happens with a dog who doesn't fear the clicker sound, but since we are working on changing the emotional response in a dog that perceives the stimulus as somewhat negative, more precisely, this process falls under counterconditioning along with desensitization.

The end result of all this is that, as the dog gets to learn that the click brings lip- smacking rewards, he will feel less intimidated and will eventually happily accept its noise.

Another method consists of putting some layers of tape on the clicker again to muffle the sound. Again, the keyword is going gradually, therefore as the dog learns that the click brings marvelous treats, I will start peeling off a layer of tape so to allow the dog to get step-by- step used to the clicking sound.

Alternatives to Clickers (The Power of Words!)

Don't want to use a clicker? Let me share some tricks of the trade. You don't have to necessarily use a clicker. Truth is, you can start using other tools that make similar sounds to a clicker, but are less loud.

For instance, a retractable pen that clicks may be good enough, for starters. If your dog is severely noise phobic, you can even use a flash of light, which is what is used when clicker training deaf dogs.

And what about just using words? You can use a verbal marker such as "yes" in lieu of the clicking sound. There is debate over whether verbal markers yield results compared to the sound of a clicker. Although there were studies done, there are too many variables and conflicting info to consider to come to conclusions.

Some studies suggest that animals trained with a clicker learn nearly twice as fast and then studies suggesting both can yield equal results. Sounds like more research needs done.

Back to clicker training, once the clicker is charged, you can then shift to operant conditioning by using the clicker noise to mark wanted behaviors and rewarding accordingly. With the power of positive reinforcement on your side, your dog will soon be on his way to learning new behaviors and repeating them as they're so rewarding.


Clicker training is a rewarding training method and it really helps dogs gain confidence in themselves and become eager to learn. Being sensitive to noises does not have to be translated into depriving these dogs from such a positive training method. With the strategies mentioned above, or the use of just a verbal marker, your dog will eventually learn to love clicker training and will eagerly look forward to your next training session. Happy clicker training!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Adrienne Janet Farricelli


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      4 years ago

      There are many trainers out there who use voice for marker training and are successful with it. Sounds like you did a great job with Wally, congrats!

    • kblover profile image

      Brian McDowell 

      4 years ago from USA

      Nice hub. I got around Wally's initial fear of it by using another marker. While it's not ideal to use voice - that's what I went to. I charged that, then used that to charge and countercondition the clicker sound.

      The bonus for that is now I had two markers so when I wanted to use marker training but maybe didn't have the clicker, etc, I always had a marker :)

      For learning, Wally didn't seem to learn slower with my voice. I've been told that maybe I have better timing with my voice than most. I do like using the clicker because of the distinct sound that he never (likely) hears before, but since he's so attuned to my voice naturally, why not use it? :D

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A well-advised hub and you did it so interestingly.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      4 years ago

      It depends. I like to use it for precision work and tricks. Sounds work much better than voice when it comes to marking desirable behaviors. I use free shaping with the clicker also to build more confidence in fearful, insecure dogs. Is it really necessary? No, people have trained without out it for years, but I find it useful for various situations.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      4 years ago

      LOL goatfury! Some dogs are scared of the remote control if it means that the owner will watch TV all night instead of paying attention to them!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      4 years ago from New York

      I love reading your hubs because I always learn so much. Do you think its necessary to clicker train your dog? Mine is now five years old and I've never used a clicker?

      Thanks for another great hub.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • goatfury profile image

      Andrew Smith 

      4 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Oh man. Being a child of the 70s and 80s, I was sure this was going to be about dogs scared of the remote control!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)