In marker training, how a dog responds (or behaves), determines whether the marker will be positive or negative. A positive marker is either the word “yes” or the sound of a clicker, followed by a reward. The most common rewards used during marker training are food, toys or affection.
We suggest you stick with food during the early stages of training. Often, affection does not motivate a dog enough to learn and a toy may be too distracting.
What happens when the dog fails to provide a desired behavior? They receive a negative marker and the reward is withheld. A negative marker can be “no, nope, ah-uh or try again”. The dog is then given another chance to figure out what is expected of them. Handlers must move slow and do their best to help the dog succeed. It is frustrating to repeatedly fail.
Marker training requires a dog to use their brain to figure out what their handler wants. The method is effective because success feels good — even to dogs. Especially when rewards are involved.
For the dog nerds, like us, here are the technical terms relating to training:
marker training is operant conditioning
rewarding the dog is a positive reinforcer
withholding a reward is a negative reinforcer
Charging the mark is the precursor to marker training. That is the technique used to teach dogs to associate the marker to the delivery of a reward. It is important for dogs to understand the association before you begin training sessions. To read our blog post on charging the mark, please visit: https://iscdt.com/charging-the-mark-in-dog-training/. We also created a video. You can view it at: https://youtu.be/83VX8wmdUtA.
Have you heard of “good” used as a marker word? It isn’t necessarily wrong to use “good” to mark behavior, we just don’t use it Good is introduced to our clients later in training, after the dog fully understands a command and is ready for duration work (or stay). It allows us to teach a dog to remain in command without having to repeat “stay…stay…stay.” Essentially, good helps us “show” a dog to stay, instead of “telling” a dog to stay. Show, don’t tell, is our motto.
One of the last items to discuss is proper timing. Proper timing is crucial in dog training. You must mark a behavior the moment it happens.
Here are examples of how improper timing can affect your training efforts:
Marking a behavior prematurely: You tell your dog to sit and mark the behavior the moment the butt hits the floor, but the front paws are in the air.
Your dog learns sit means, butt on the floor and front paws in the air. Sounds crazy, but dogs sometimes wrap their paws around your arm in an attempt to grab the treat during the luring stage of sit.
Marking a behavior too late: You tell your dog to sit. He sits, then moves out of the sit while you mark the behavior.
Sometimes dogs stand or slide into a down immediately after they sit. This delayed marker communicates to the dog that sit means drop your butt to the floor, then immediately change your position.
Proper timing: You tell your dog to sit. With paws on the floor, dog’s butt drops to the floor – you immediately mark the behavior.
Dog learns a proper sit.
Delivery of the treat: While the mark must come the instant the dog provides the behavior, the treat does not have to come as quickly. Deliver the treat after the marker.
Timing for negative markers: In the event that a dog ignores a command, a negative marker is given within ½ second of the command.
Proper negative marker: sit (½ second) no (wait a beat), sit (½ second) no (wait a beat) sit, “yes” the moment the dog sits — follow with a reward
Improper negative marker:
“sit no, sit, no” in a rapid succession, or
“sit, sit, sit, no, no, no”.
Below is a video demonstrating proper marker training (using both positive and negative markers.
What command will you teach using marker training? We want to hear about it.