Using a Marker in Dog Training
A Marker is any sound you will use to tell your dog when he/she did something right. Even though sometimes we "think" our dogs know what we are saying, it is important to actively train this special word. It can be a powerful tool if trained and used correctly because it can speed up communication between you and your dog.
If you want to use a word as your Marker, make sure it has these specific characteristics:
Short and sharp.
Comes naturally when you are happy.
You don't use it too often in other conversations.
It can't be confused with other commands or your dog's name.
Alternatively you can use a Clicker: a little plastic device that makes a distinct and sharp noise. A clicker is a great tool because it has all the above characteristics. But it is a device you must take with you when you want to train.
A clicker is great for training new things or getting more accuracy with things they already know. A verbal marker is great because you can’t forget to bring it with you however, it is very difficult to make the exact same noise every time, especially when we are feeling emotional!
You can, of course, always use both verbal and clicker markers.
Teaching your dog the meaning of a Marker Word
Say the word (or click with the clicker).
Immediately give your dog a treat.
Repeat when they are lying down.
Repeat when they are sitting.
Repeat when they are looking the other way.
Repeat when they least expect it.
Do this 10-15 times per training session for a few days. Use some of their dinner and breakfast to do a few rounds without over feeding them. You are done when you can tell your dog gets excited as soon ashe hears the sound and before you hand them a treat!
The idea is for the dog to associate the sound with the reward; this is known as classical conditioning, just like when Pavlov’s dogs learnt that the sound of the bell meant food.
Again, it doesn't matter - yet - if your dog is doing something good or not. You just want them to learn that the sound means a reward is coming!
Why is it important?
When training a new behaviour, the act of giving a treat to tell your dog he did correctly, would interrupt what your hound is doing and distract them. With a marker you can be much more precise. It also means you can take a while longer to give the treat, rather than panicking and fumbling for one.
When Do I use the Marker?
You will use it every time you want to tell your dog they are doing the correct behaviour. E.g. If you are training your dog "down", you will say the word as soon as they are lying down (not before and not after!) Then you can give them a treat (only if he is still lying down).
If you say the marker a second or two later, you might be telling them they did something correctly, but it's not what you wanted it to be! So stay focused, if you are late, don't say anything - you will get another chance!
You need to follow every mark with a treat, otherwise the sound will loose its meaning and the dog may stop responding to it.
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