Marker training system is a science based teaching method that has been developed into a simple way to communicate with your dog. Using this system we are able to quickly teach our dogs what behaviours are wanted by offering either a piece of food or another high value reward such as a ball or a tug.
What is a Marker?
A marker is either a verbal cue or a mechanical sound (usually a clicker) that has been classically conditioned as positive reinforcement for the dog to mean that he/she has done something correctly and that a reward is to follow. Initially a marker will hold little meaning to the dog as it has to be paired with a piece of food/treat. This is usually done by performing many reps of clicking a clicker and following that up with a treat/food. So the theory is click→ food, click → food, click → food. You will know if you have paired this up correctly if you click and the dog immediately starts licking his lips in anticipation of a reward. Once you have achieved this you are ready to start training.
Word or a clicker?
If trainers are using a verbal marker instead of the clicker they will usually use the word “YES”. The problem however with this is that there are many different ways to say that word. Short and sharp, deep, high pitched, and so forth. These are one of the things that can cause the conditioning of the verbal marker to take longer and also for your training to not be as precise.
Enter the clicker, a clicker is a mechanical device that makes a clicking sound. The benefit of using it is that it always makes the same sound unlike a human saying the word “YES”. Another major advantage of the clicker is that it is precise. You are able to mark a desired behaviour accurately to better communicate with your dog. Buy Your Clicker From PETBUZZ
How do we use a marker?
We use a click to mark the exact moment a dog gives us a desired behaviour. Probably better illustrated with an example. Let's say you are trying to get Rex to sit, and this works best when a dog is hungry (at dinner time) as he will be more motivated to work. You would set yourself and the dog up to do some training, using a piece of food that is in your hand you lure the dog into a sit. At the exact moment the dogs back end hits the ground you would mark that behaviour with a click and follow that up with food.
The dog would start learning that was the correct behaviour very quickly as it makes the connection between sitting down, the click! And food reward coming his/her way. Once the dog starts performing this reliably we would start pairing this behaviour with a verbal cue, most likely “sit”. When we feel the behaviour is learnt you can then substitute the food with anything else that a dog might find rewarding such as a ball, tug, or pats. It is also worthy noting that the dog dictates what he/she finds rewarding, not what we humans think is rewarding for the dog.
Another very important part of using a marker is “shaping”. Shaping basically involves rewarding small increments of behaviours you want until you finally end up with the target result. Shaping involves not luring, talking or moving to help the dog out, but rather standing still and waiting for the dog to offer a desired behaviour and then rewarding it no matter how small (or long) the progress is.
For example, if you want your dog to drop. You would stand and maybe start off with the dog looking at the ground and reward it. Then dropping his head down, Reward ! Dropping his head down a few more times and rewarding every behaviour. Then we can ask more from the dog, such as putting his nose to the ground, and then Reward! Eventually we would get to a point where the dog would drop down on the ground and this would be the time for you to give him a big reward. This was an overly simplified example to show the progress of shaping a dog to a down, but you get the idea.
That's it for this article!
As usual, if you have any questions don't hesitate to contact me.
Karen Pryor - Dont shoot the dog (https://www.amazon.com/Dont-Shoot-Dog-Teaching-Training/dp/1860542387/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=karen+pryor&qid=1596065573&sr=8-1)
About the Author
Jake C. currently participates in IGP with his Working Line German Shepherd called Rocky at The Wollongong Sportdog Club Inc.
Currently they have passed the BH and IGP1, and are hoping to attempt IGP2 in Autumn 2021.
Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/jakecvje