Trainer Tip Tuesday: Marking Behaviors
Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Often times when I have clients tell me I’m the ‘Dog Whisperer’ I ask myself, what actually makes someone great at dog training? One of the first things that pops in my head is great timing. Having the ability to tell the dog when they got something right greatly improves the likelihood that they are going to offer that behavior again. Heres my favorite scenario to throw out in my private lessons:
Imagine for a second you’re back in elementary school. The teacher is teaching you and your classmates how to do addition: “What is 2+2?” they might ask. You shoot your hand up in the air, the teacher calls on you and you respond with “4!” “Yes! That is correct.” they say. You smile to yourself and settle back into your seat. A sigh of relief escapes you as you are satisfied that you got the answer right. You don’t need to offer any more answers or guesses to that question because its done and out of the way.
Now imagine if it had gone differently:
Teacher: “What is 2+2?”
Teacher: *stares at you for 5 seconds* then says “Yes! That is correct.”
In that five seconds that your teacher was just staring at you without telling you if you were right or wrong you might have felt uncomfortable and been uneasy in your seat. You might have even offered a different answer like “5?” My point is that when you are teaching new behavior, it is so important to let your dog know that they got it right the very second they got it right. When you do this, your dog is less likely to offer behaviors you don’t want (like jumping on you or lifting their paw for ‘shake’) and you’re also creating a very confident dog. You do this by using marker words or clickers.
Ill follow with examples in just a minute but first, let’s talk about marking a behavior. How do we mark behaviors you might ask? Simple. I prefer using marker words like “Yes!” Or “Break!” while other trainers prefer clickers. They’re consistent, simple. With your words you want to make the same sound everytime. Honestly you could ring a bell (Pavlov) even though that’s not really practical at all but, again, my point is that whatever you use you want to be consistent in how you say the marker word or press the clicker. In order for a marker word or a clicker to become important to your dog though, it is important to follow your marker words or clicker with their favorite reward like a treat or a toy (thinking of Pavlov again) You’re taking an unconditioned reward (“Yes!” or clicker pop) and pairing it with a conditioned reward (hotdog treat or favorite ball) so that eventually you can wean your dog off of using treats and toys and use just words to let them know they got something right. Now let’s talk about that: delivery of marker words and clickers. When you say “yes!” right after your dog does what you ask, you’re saying it in a sharp, to-the-point tone. You’re not saying it like “yeeEESSss?” It’s just simply “Yes!” Same thing goes for clickers. You press a clicker fast so it makes a sharp popping noise. You’re not pressing down on the clicker, *holding it*, and then releasing. Just simply press and release. Ok, now I think we’re ready for that example:
Teaching “Sit” using marker words and treats:
Dog: *Sits* You: “Yes!” (Or clicker pop) and follow with treat right away
There you have it! One of my tips to being a successful dog trainer includes being consistent and timely marking behaviors using your words and/or clickers. Practice makes perfect. The more you can do this with your dog, the better you AND your dog are going to be!
Want to schedule a private lesson to have a demo of how to do this with your dog? Email us at email@example.com