Morfah’s Musings – Marker Training
“Every day I hear people ask how they get the most out of their dog in training, how do they move from the basic training their dog can do to more complex training they see other people and dogs perform, especially some of the amazing dogs we see performing through social media. The answer to this question is actually an easy on, though it isn’t something most people use in their everyday training, something that sets apart the good handlers from the great handlers and trainers out there … Markers
For those of you that don’t know what a marker is here is a little background knowledge. A marker is a word or a sound that clearly marks the point where the dog has got it right. I have learnt the sound of a clicker, as well as the word “yes”, so I can have my behaviour marked with either. Some people like the clear, unchanging sound of the clicker in their training, others like the fact that they can add emotion and emphasis to their training with a word. Whichever you use remember that the sound needs to be short and needs to be something specific to training, for instance don’t use a word that is commonly used in your normal vocabulary, or a sound that can relate to something or someone else, okay is a problematic word as most people say this regularly, a ring or bell sound can be problematic as it can be similar to mobile phones or other electrical equipment.
How are markers used? To start with you need to prime or charge your marker (in other words you need to ensure your dog knows that the word or sound means something good is coming). To do this grab some tasty treats (something soft like chicken or sausages is my preferred treat), your sound if you are using a clicker or other sound making devise, then say the word/make the sound and treat your dog. Repeat this around 20 times, to test that your dog knows the command you can do what my human does, wait until I am looking away (and not doing anything naughty) and say yes or click, if your dog turns back immediately they understand the word or sound is marking what you want from them.
So how to you use this to push your training further? A marker pinpoints exactly when your dog is performing the way you want them too, what behaviour you are after. By giving your dog this clear information they can clearly understand what will get them rewarded and display that behaviour more often.
I recently helped work with my friend Alice’s human to show how well a marker can improve communication between humans and dogs, we used the clicker in the training as Alice’s human tends to get a bit excited and use too many words and squealy sounds at times, so the clicker is clearer for Alice. I also ensured my human lent Alice’s human a clicker with target stick so they could practice and that very night we got a great video showing Alice and her human working on turning a lamp on and off. We started by having the lamp close to Alice and every time she moved towards the lamp clicked and treated, then when Alice interacted with the lamp (paw or nose touch, look, move towards, etc) click and treat, slowly working towards the behaviour Alice needed to perform … press the button to turn the lamp on and off.
We were all so proud of Alice and her human, with the use of the clicker they managed to get the lamp to turn on and off that very night. From there they not only perfected the lamp training, but moved onto learning lots of new and fun skills.
Now some of what Alice learnt to do was pretty much useless in everyday life, but you know what Alice loved it. Like me the fun is in learning something new, exercising the brain with new skills and abilities, and having a great time with your human. And the best thing about this training, if your human makes a mistake and marks the wrong behaviour, let’s face it, sometimes their timing is a bit off, if they make a mistake it doesn’t matter, it will only mean that it will take you a little longer to realise that what you thought they marked and what they wanted was two different things.
Now a quick word to you humans about timing .. us dogs can be pretty quick, and we can move when you least expect it. If you are a little slow and we move from a behaviour you want to mark and something unwanted (like bark or jump) just as you mark we will try that behaviour again thinking that is what we are being marked or rewarded for. Don’t worry, just ensure your timing is a little better next time and we will get what you want. And being dogs, we are very forgiving if you confuse us, we will give you the time you need to improve your timing.
So, what can you teach your dog with a marker? Well I have learnt everything from sit, drop and come, to heel, bark and jump. And some very neat tricks like mat, meaning I run to my bed and lie down, as well as give, where I drop what I have in my mouth (I can also carry stuff around), and how to put away my toys. My friends Jessie, who we helped last month, and Alice have also learnt lots of new tricks and are improving their obedience skills every day with the use of markers.
If you use markers in your training Jessie, Alice and I would love to hear from you and find out what you are learning. I am sure some of you are working with your humans differently to us and we can all learn from one another. And we all know our humans love hearing new ideas from other dog lovers.
Until next time, high paws to you all, stay cool.”