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What Are Markers?

When it comes to training dogs there is one thing that is a great hurdle to overcome, this is the communication and timing problem. Dogs can often misunderstand what we want and expect of them due to when we time the giving of rewards or corrections.

This misunderstanding confuses dogs and creates unnecessary stress in their lives. In order to create clear communication to our dogs and to bridge the time gap between action and consequence a more complex form of communication needs to be used with our dogs on a day to day basis.

Once a dog has learned this form of communication than things become clearer to the dog and teaching complex commands to the dog becomes much more achievable.

This form of communication is the utilization of markers in dog training.

“A dog who is trained with markers is given the same communication abilities that you are given when playing the hot cold game.”

There are two ways that really help to describe how markers work in dog training. The first way is that a marker acts like camera that is able to catch a moment in time so that the dog can associate between that moment and the consequence that follows it, even if it falls outside of the normal timing for classical conditioning.

Another way to describe markers when they are utilized together is to imagine the hot and cold game that you used to play as a child. Someone would hide an object and then would help you to find it but they could only do so by either telling you “cold” you are far from the object, or “hot” you are near the object.

With the aid of someone guiding you it was quite easy to find the hidden object.

A dog who is trained with markers is given the same communication abilities that you are given when playing the hot cold game.

By giving the marker at a specific time the dog can better connect what actions they did that lead to the receiving of a reward. These markers can be utilized to guide the dog into the appropriate behavior or position.

Markers can be used to train dogs to do complex commands that would otherwise seem impossible to do.

At the Matson pack we utilize four separate markers which are “yes” “good” “nope” and “no”. You can use any combination of words for your own markers, but these are generally more commonly used by a variety of people.

Each word means something different and gives information to the dog in order to make appropriate decisions.

The first marker that we use is the word “yes”. This marker is given at the precise moment the dog has done the right thing; this lets the dog know that what they are doing is a behavior we want to see repeated.

“Charging the mark utilizes classical conditioning to associate the marker word of “yes” with the reward that is given after it.”

When giving the mark of “yes” a reward of some sort should always be given to the dog so that they understand what they are doing is the appropriate behavior to do, by also being consistent with the timing of the reward you are able to do what is called charging the mark.

Charging the mark utilizes classical conditioning to associate the marker word of “yes” with the reward that is given after it.

The second marker that is used is the word “good”.

This marker is used to tell the dog that what they are doing is what we want to see and if they continue it a “yes” marker will be given along with a reward.

This marker is especially useful when doing a stay command and we want to build upon duration. By saying “good” we let the dog know that they will be rewarded if they continue to do what they are doing.

For the dog to understand what this marker means a “yes” marker and reward should always follow after a “good” marker has been given.

Just like charging the mark for the “yes” marker we want to charge the mark for the “good” marker as well. Later in the dogs training however there will be times when a “good” marker can be given by itself and is not followed by a “yes” marker.

This concept is called intermittent reinforcement and it motivates the dog by activating their dopamine receptors in the brain.

The “nope” marker is the third marker that we use. This marker is used when the dog is trying to do the appropriate behavior, but it may not be exactly what is wanted.

“The nope command can be extremely useful in guiding a dog that is learning a new command as the dog can use the process of elimination in order to find the correct behavior so that they can receive the reward.”

For example, you may give the command of down to the dog and the dog drops its body however its elbows are not touching the ground. The dog is trying to do the appropriate behavior in order to receive the reward, but the down is not fully complete.

The marker “nope” can be given to let the dog know that it will not be given a reward for that behavior.

The “nope” marker can be extremely useful in guiding a dog that is learning a new command as the dog can use the process of elimination in order to find the correct behavior so that they can receive the reward.

The final marker that is used is “no”. This marker is used when the dog is displaying a behavior that is undesirable or they are ignoring a known command.

Examples would be a dog who knows the command of sit and does not do it when given the command or a dog who is getting into a trash can.

These are examples when the “no” marker can be utilized. When using the “no” marker a correction should also be used in order to stop the bad behavior and guide the dog into an appropriate position or behavior.

After giving a “no” marker and correction it is important to always give a follow-on command when possible, preferably the one that they didn’t obey to begin with, in order to let the dog know what they are expected to do.

If a follow-on command is not given to the dog then they can be left confused as to what behavior they should display.

The use of markers can greatly help the communication process between humans and canines. The ability to take a snapshot of behaviors by marking it gives owners and trainers the precious few seconds needed in order to give a reward or correction.

By using these markers humans can teach dogs extremely complex behaviors that would otherwise seem impossible. This clear communication will help to create a stronger bond and reduces the amount of stress that a dog deals with as they can better understand what their human expects of them.

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