How to introduce a marker to your dog training

Find out what a marker is and how it can be used when training your dog.

Adult Terrier, outside, in the sand, on a sunny day, being fed treats.

Have you heard the term ‘marker’ mentioned in relation to dog training, but not sure what it is or how it helps? Well, it’s easy to use, simple, effective and incredibly helpful, particularly when training new behaviours.

So, let’s look at exactly what it is and see how it can help you to train your pooch. 

What is marker training?

A marker is a clear signal used in dog training. It lets your pooch know that they have done it right and you are very happy with them. It is a way of pinpointing the exact behaviour that you want from them.

The marker is instantly followed by a reward. This then becomes the direct consequence to the behaviour your dog was doing when the marker was used.

Your pooch will learn that the marker not only means that they have done what you wanted. But also, that it will be followed by a reward. This means they are likely to repeat that behaviour, wanting to see or hear the marker and receive another reward. 

What to use as a marker

The choice is yours when it comes to what you use as your marker. Ultimately, it should be one that you are comfortable with and will be happy to use consistently in your training.

Vocal marker

Marker words are commonly used for dog training such as “yes” or “nice.” You can choose the word but make sure that it is one that your dog is unlikely to hear at other times to avoid any confusion. 

You also need to ensure you say the word as calmly as possible. It’s easy to get excited when your dog is doing well. But this can excite, confuse or distract them – which is not what you want!

A marker should be consistent and the same every time. So, while the word needs to remain the same, so does the tone, pitch and volume you use.

Mechanical marker  

Are you worried about remaining consistent with a vocal marker or simply don’t want to use one? Then pick a mechanical marker instead.

This could be a clicker that, as the name would suggest, is a handheld device that makes a click sound when pressed. Alternatively, you may like to use a whistle.

Visual marker

A visual marker can be used by anyone but it’s particularly useful when training deaf dogs. If you choose this one, make sure it’s an obvious hand signal such as a thumbs up. Again, consistency is key. So, make sure you pick one and use it every time.

Introducing the marker to your dog training

Before you start training any new behaviours, your dog needs to know that the marker is a positive sign. That it means a reward is on the way.

Start by making the marker sound or signal. Then give them a treat – making sure to use one of their favourites. Repeat this – marker and then treat – several times.

Your dog will start to expect a treat when they hear or see the marker. Once they do, further training can start.

Now you know how to use a marker, you are ready to start training new behaviours. 

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