What is Marker Training?

  • Marker training is a system of training in which operant conditioning forms an association between a behaviour with a reward. The marker is technically the operant conditioning.
  • The marker is a word or a sound. The word used is “Yes” and the sound used is a clicker.
  • Dogs are the masters of association. Dogs will link sounds, signals, locations with a previous consequence and with a positive or negative experience.
  • The key to operant conditioning is teaching a dog that desirous behaviour results in the dog getting a reward. The marker then links the behaviour with the reward.
  • Through repetition, the dog learns that the sound of the marker results in a reward. The marker is given directly after the dog completes the desired behaviour.
  • In marker training there are only two consequences. A reward is provided for desirous behaviour, no reward is provided for negative behaviour.
  • A reward or punishment needs to be given immediately after the behaviour. The marker extends the time that the reward needs to be given.
  • The marker effectively takes a photo of the behaviour for the dog and links it to the reward.

Why Use Marker Training?

  • Marker training develops fully engaged, enthusiastic dogs who use problem solving to achieve the desired result
  • It is a simple form of communication which is based on positive reinforcement.
  • It allows the trainer/owner to use a language in which your dog understands.
  • The marker is a motivational tool for the dog to continue doing the favourable behaviour.
  • By withholding a mark, you are telling your dog that that behaviour is wrong, motivating the dog to complete the correct behaviour, encouraging your dog to engage with you to get the reward.
  • Marker training uses a variable reward system where multiple forms of rewards can be used with the marker. The dog does not become reliant on a single reward.

What Words are Used in Marker Training?

  • Positive marker used is “Yes”. It links the behaviour with the reward. It allows the dog to engage with the handler to receive the reward.
  • Good is the word used to tell the dog that the behaviour is correct, but they need to continue with that behaviour. It adds duration to the behaviour.
  • Negative marker used is “No”. It teaches the dog that the behaviour is incorrect, and they need to continue working until the correct behaviour is completed.
  • Finish is the word used to end the exercise.

Definitions Used in Marker Training

  • High Value Reward is the main motivating reward for the dog. Generally, it is a high value food treat.
  • Variable Rewards are food, toys, verbal and physical praise. They can all be used randomly throughout the dog’s life.
  • Loading the marker is conditioning the dog to the link between Yes and the reward. Once your dog is loaded it will fully engage with you to seek the reward.
  • Free Shaping is breaking the exercise down into small, gradual steps to get to the full desired behaviour. It creates a motivated, problem-solving dog.
  • Luring is directing the dog to a position with the use of your hand or the food. The lure is then matched with a verbal command to reinforce the command.
  • Varying your reward delivery is important as the dog will become conditioned to the movement of the hand rather than the marker if the same delivery is maintained.
  • A jackpot is extra treats for a desired behaviour. We want the dog always thinking a jackpot is on its way. This helps to maintain engagement and motivation.

Tips for Marker Training

  • The marker is not the reward. The marker links the behaviour with the reward.
  • Once your dog is proficient at the desired behaviours vary the rewards. It will build the dogs desire to receive the high value reward.
  • When your dog completes a desired behaviour without command make sure you mark that behaviour.
  • If you dog has low food drive, don’t allow your dog to graze throughout the day. Leave the food out for five minutes and then take away if not consumed. Your dog will quickly learn upon command. Supplement food in main meal with training food.
  • Voice infliction is important. Dogs rely on the tone of your voice to match with commands. Monotone voices confuse the dog.
  • Dogs understand physical cues more than vocal. Match hand signals with commands. Your dog will respond easier with the physical signals.
  • Change the environments in which you train, when your dog is proficient at each command, practice them in different environments and gradually increase stimulus.
  • Be consistent. Don’t train when angry. Finish on a high, don’t think just one more.