Training Tips with Todd ~ Installing a Marker

Training Tips with Todd  ~ Installing a Marker

In last month’s article, we covered the basic thinking pattern of dogs and how important it is to offer clear and consistent guidance in order to get our dogs to display positive behaviours. This month, we will be focusing on how to effectively communicate with our dogs. How do we do that? We first start by teaching them the very basics of communication – ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.

A ‘Marker’ is a sound or word that we will be associating with food, resulting in a tool that we can use to tell our dog, “Yes! What you are doing is great!”. The most common marker that is used in both companion dog and professional dog training is the ‘clicker’. I’m sure you’ve seen these before, they are a simple metal sheet inside a plastic box that makes a distinctive ‘click’ when pressed.

The advantage of using a clicker is that the sound it produces is clear, distinct and unique meaning that the dog will most likely have not heard it before and won’t confuse it with similar sounds. The disadvantage is that all clickers sound the same, so if you’re at the dog park and someone else has a clicker, things are going to get confusing for your pup!

Alternatively, you can use a word as a marker. When choosing your word, make sure it isn’t something that you are going to accidently say in the wrong context. For example, ‘Good’ isn’t a great example of a marker because you may say it when you’re patting your dog and they aren’t showing any behaviours apart from being all wiggly and cute. This muddies the waters and makes it confusing for your dog when training.

A good example of a verbal marker is a clear, ‘Yes’ spoken in a calm, higher pitch than your regular voice. The consistent, unique tonality of your voice is important so that it best replicates the benefits of the clicker.

Once you have your marker ready, it’s time to associate it with food!

Take your time introducing a marker to your dog. The goal is to make the marker sound and immediately reward the dog so that they can accurately predict that the marker means treats are on the way. It is also very important to create the marker sound only when your dog isn’t eliciting any behaviours in an attempt to be rewarded.

Set up a bowl of treats and a clicker on the bench in your kitchen or loungeroom. When you’re doing things around the house, if you see your dog lying down or looking out the window, click and throw a treat near your dog. Don’t repeat for a couple of minutes or until your pup has calmed down. Once they are back at neutral, click and throw another treat. Repeat this 5-6 times over the course of 10-20 minutes and give it a break. You’ll know that the association has been made once you click and your dog stands up and starts sniffing around their feet looking for the treat!

Once the marker is installed, you can use it to train anything from a sit to grabbing a beer from the fridge! Try it out, it’s a fun way to interact and treat your pup, and we’ll cover how to correctly use the marker to train behaviours next month!

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