When teaching a dog a new behavior, what makes her willing to do it more reliably? Quite simply, it is making that behavior rewarding. Timing can play into the dog’s understanding of what exact behavior she is doing that is being rewarded. You want to make sure to pair a response in a timely fashion, as soon as the desired behavior is shown, so that the dog makes an association. You will actually be making a few associations that will blend together to produce a reliable response.
We will use sit as an example. When you tell your dog to sit, as soon as the bottom hits the ground, you want to give feedback that this is the correct response. You can use a variety of types of signals. A verbal cue such as “yes,” a click, or a hand gesture are all effective means of signaling. You then pair that signal with some sort of reward that your dog likes, and the dog grabs the associations. In this case, when you say “sit,” the dog learns to get in that position and then hears a sound that is followed by a reward.
Studies have been done to confirm that the signal that precipitates the reward isn’t important. In an article discussing one such study, Stanley Coren explains further how both signals affect behaviors equally.* It is the well-timed consistency that makes it all work.
With consistent repetition the association will become so strong that it becomes automatic. Your dog will be all too happy to reliably follow through with that behavior because she knows it gets rewarded. Use various rewards, making sure to include praise. And when choosing between a clicker or your voice, make it simpler for yourself by using your voice; you know you’ll always have that with you.