The aim know when we are dog training is to reinforce the behaviours we want to see more of to encourage the dog to perform this more regularly.
We know that we have between 1 and 3 seconds to reinforce a dog for a behaviour, for them to make the connection between the behaviour and the reinforcer (reward). This not always a very practical window of time for us to communicate to the dog that their behaviour is successful.
To counter this, we can use a marker. The marker acts as a bridge between the successful behaviour and the delivery of the reward. The mark communicates to the dog that they have done the right thing, and that reward is on the way. It allows us to be very precise in communicating to the dog exactly which behaviour they are being rewarded for all while buying us some time to actually deliver the reward.
An effective marker is a short, sharp, consistent sound. Commonly used markers are verbal (a specific word like yes or good) or mechanical – like a clicker.
Initially, the mark has no meaning to the dog. It’s just another sound. Before being able to use the marker in training, we must condition it. That is, we must pair it with reward so that the dog understands what it means to hear the sound.
Using markers can be as complex or as simple as you like. Some people will use just one marker to indicate success – now stop the behaviour. Others will have a second marker that they use to indicate success – keep going in the behaviour. Some people will have a mark that means success – now you will get a food reward and another that means success – now you will get a toy. The layers of complexity are entirely up to you! What is important to remember is your marker can only mean one thing. For example, if you use a clicker to mean success – stop behaviour, you cannot also use the clicker for success – keep going in the behaviour. Clarity and consistency of marker use is essential for effective training.
To find out more about marker training you can get in touch with Unleashed via our contact form.