Marker Training Explained

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Hey, it’s Tenille here from Dog Matters, and over the next couple of weeks I thought we could do some fun stuff and teach you how to teach your dog some tricks. Now there are benefits to tricks that we’ll get into later, like improving your bond and improving the way that your dog listens to you when it comes to obedience training as well, but before we get stuck into training the tricks, I thought it would be important to do a quick explainer video of the training technique that we’re going to be using, and in particular, marker training. Now marker training is the same as clicker training, if you’ve ever heard of that, or rather clicker training is a form of marker training. And a marker is just a signal that the animal has done the right thing and it predicts the reward, and usually it’s an audible signal like a sound. So some classic examples of markers are a clicker, or in a lot of marine mammal training, a whistle, and then there’s your voice. So with most clients, and what I recommend to you, is that you just use your voice, because you always have it with you. But it’s still important to understand the clicker and the whistle, because the one advantage that they really shine with is that they sound exactly the same each time, and precision in the sound of the marker is going to help your dog to understand.

So when you’re using your voice as a marker, make sure that it sounds the same each time and it’s short and sharp. This doesn’t mean that other people can’t use the same marker word and have a different tone in their voice, because the dog does learn to understand the difference. So the marker word that I use is yes. Nice, short, sharp, and to the point. Now this is different to praise, and it doesn’t mean we’re not using praise, because praise is also very important, but think of it as a different form of reward. So praise would be where you draw out your words a bit more and put some emotion into your voice, like good, good girl, but we don’t do that with our marker word yes, it’s just yes because it’s got to stand out from all the other words we say, and it’s gotta be a quick thing. This is something that’s going to improve your timing, so it can’t be drawn out, you don’t say yes, yes, that’s it.

That would be more like praise. It’s more muddy and it’s harder for the dog to understand. We really need this sound to stand out from everything else, so the word is yes. You can choose other words, as long as they are short, sharp, sound the same each time, and stand out from all your other words. Think about how hard it is for dogs to understand what the heck we must want with all the different gibberish that we talk to them, knowing that they don’t understand our words automatically.

They’ve gotta pick out each word that has a meaning to them, that they can understand, and we wanna make that easier for them. Now the benefit of marker training is it marks the precise moment that the dog has done the right thing. So let’s say we are marking the moment the dog’s butt touches the ground for a sit, as soon as his bottom touches the ground, yes, and then get the treat out and give it to the dog. Now remember I said before that the marker sound predicts the treat, in order to predict it, the sound has to come first, and that is actually important, so try not to say yes as you’re passing the treat already, but yes, and then pass the treat. The reason for this is we want the dog to learn the sound on its own so that they can pay attention to it, even if they can’t see us, and dogs are masters at reading body language, better than we even are.

So if we’re moving our arm towards them or towards our treat bag at the same time or before we say yes, they’re always going to take our body movement before the sound, and it’s going to make it harder for them to understand the sound on its own. So for them to really learn a word and what that word means, the word has to predict the consequence or the outcome, and the same goes for commands, but with talking about the marker sound, it predicts a treat. Yes means that’s it, you’ve done the right thing, and here’s your treat. Now when we’re doing our trick training, if you’d prefer to use a clicker or an other marker, then that’s fine too, but in most of the videos, I’m gonna be using yes and treat. And you would’ve seen me use yes and treat in any of my other videos before as well, or yes can also predict a toy. The difference is for me, that with a toy, it’s more active and the dog obviously has to break position to play with the toy, so yes and treat being your marker, also becomes your release.

But the marker can predict any reward that you want it to, and you can also have different markers meaning different things if you want as well. So why can’t you just pass the dog a treat and not say yes or just say good, good girl? Well good, good girl, they tend to go for longer, they’re not as sharp. If you are using the word good, it’s gotta be good, nice and short and sharp, that would be okay, but when most people are talking to their dogs and using the word good, with pet owners, they’re saying good girl, and it’s longer.

We’re looking for something sharp to really mark that moment the dog’s done the right thing, and it makes a big improvement on your training if you’ve just been passing the dog a treat and having them sort of have to figure out what it’s for, you’ll notice that this will really advance your treat training, because it really makes it clearer to the dog that what they’ve done is what’s caused that treat to happen. What we’re doing is setting up a really great communication signal to our dogs so that they can understand us better, and when they can understand us better, they learn quicker, so we’re helping them out. And the reason that this all came about is they found that dogs need to get the treat, something within like half a second of them doing the behavior, and that’s not much time, we’re usually not that quick, especially if we wanna reward something a distance away from the dog, there’s no way we can zoom over and have a treat to their mouth within half a second. Sometimes not even within three seconds.

So the marker acts as a bridge, in fact, another word for a marker is a bridge, because it bridges the gap between behavior and reward. So the dog might do a sit at a distance, and you can say yes and get the treat to them, or some people have the animal come and get the treat, that’s up to you, as long as you set your clear communication and what that means to the dog. Now just because you use markers in training, it doesn’t mean that you have to be silent the rest of the time, or change anything else that you’re already doing with your dog. It doesn’t mean that you don’t use any other training method, it is just a really great communication tool to speed up your rewards based training, and you can absolutely use it in conjunction with other methods as well, such as using a bit of pressure with the dog to help them move where you want them to go, and then marking and rewarding.

Some trainers will do what’s called loading the marker, or loading the clicker, and that means that they literally just stand there with the dog doing nothing in particular, and go yes, treat. Yes, treat, over and over and over, until the dog is turning its head and expecting the treat when it hears the word yes because its made that association, and when the dog knows the association, it does make things flow a little smoother, but you can absolutely start using it on the fly as you’re training skills as well. I do that all the time to save time in lessons, just know that when the dog understands what it means a bit better, it’ll come together a bit nicer, and the dog will really understand that it’s aiming to make that sound happen, and that’s what you want. Now I mentioned that when the dog really knows the sound, they’re gonna turn their head and they’re gonna be looking for the treat, and that’s great, but a common mistake is that people then use it to get their dog’s attention, so they say, “Oh this is great.” Some people, say they’ve just started with clicker training, and they’re clicking the clicker, and their dog is coming running for a treat every time.

Great association that click means treat, but it’s not an attention getting sound, and it’s not a recall. And the reason that this is a bit risky if you do it that way is you’re gonna pull it out when you’re dog is usually doing something where they’re really distracted or not listening to you. So a classic example that I’ve seen happen is I’ll go back to a client’s house and they’ll say, “This is great, gets my dog’s attention so easily.” And their dog’s gone, let’s say down the back yard and they’re digging in the compost or something like that, and they’re calling the dog, and the dog’s not listening. So what do they do? They go and grab their clicker and they say dog’s name, and then they click the clicker and the dog comes running, looking for the treat, and they’re like, “Cool that worked.”

But remember that the sound that you’re using is a signal to tell the dog that right there, the thing that you were doing in that specific moment you heard the sound, it’s good, that’s why you’re getting the treat. So what they’ve inadvertently done is reward their dog for digging in the compost and doing something that they don’t want them to do, and in fact ignoring them, and then they’ve marked that moment and rewarded the dog for it.

So just keep that in mind, it’s not an attention getting, even though we want our dog to pay attention to it, it’s not to be used to get their attention if they’re not listening to you, it’s to be used to communicate to the dog that the moment they hear it, that’s the moment they were doing something good, and a reward’s about to follow.

I hope that that has explained marker training for you. Put that into your training this week, and then we’re going to start using it to train some tricks and other cool stuff and you should find a massive improvement in your training and communication with your dog over time as you start to put this into place. I’m Tenille from Dog Matters and I will see you next week.

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