Positive marker training is getting popular by many new handlers and trainers. That is a positive change as I believe marker training is the best training method available at this moment. The theory of marker training is very easy, its common sense, the practice of it can be rather difficult. It takes a lot time to master and a lot of experience to do it right.
Marker training starts by conditioning the dog to a particular sound or cue. This can be the sound of a “clicker” or a verbal cue like “YES”. When this sound is produced, within one or two second we feed the dog some food by hand. Food is a non-conditional signal, what means that we do not need to train a dog to eat, the sound we produce is linked to a positive experience, in this case food.
So after every “click” or “YES” we give food. “YES” – food, “Yes”—food. We mark the word “YES”
The timing of presenting the reward is really important. If the dog performs the behavior we want to see and we give him the reward after 5 sec. the dog has no idea why he gets rewarded. The presentation of the reward must come within ½ second to 1 sec. In real life situations it is almost impossible to be that fast so this is why we need a bridge to tell the dog “You did a good job, you get a reward but give me some time to grab it”. This is what we do by CHARGING the mark, “Yes” or the sound of “clicker”
Negative behavior will lead in getting negative reinforcement what will mean that the dog doesn’t get a reward. If the dog shows us fault behavior we mark this with the word “NO”
The biggest advantage is that dog are getting problem solvers because they learn that if one behavior doesn’t lead to a reward they need to try something different what might lead to a reward. They keep on trying until they found out what behavior leads to a reward. Allowing the dog to make mistakes will make him a problem solver!
Another important step here is the “NO MARK” which means that until he doesn’t here the mark “yes” he didn’t perform the behavior you want. For example in a heeling pattern, in the beginning you reward the dog after 2 or 3 steps of good heeling. You mark it, and reward. As the dog progresses he get the mark after 10 steps, and 20 and so on, until he performs a whole schutzhund 3 heeling routine.
When you reward the dog try to make the reward itself a little event. Let the dog move his feed to get the food or toy reward. As we know a squirrel does not jump in a dog’s mouth. It will help increase the dog prey drive.
One of the mistakes that handlers make is when they advance in their marker training is always use the same food and the same amount. The word “YES” of the sound of the “click” must announce that a reward is coming. It will not announce the quantity or quality of the reward. If you always feed the dog one piece of the same food every time eventually your dog will think “this is getting really boring here”. The dog does not live a communist life, it would be nice because he would have no stress, he always knows what is coming, and it is always the same but rather boring.
So we must vary the quantity, quality and the frequency of the food reward to keep the dog’s interest. The value of the food reward may increase with the increase of difficulty in the expected behavior we want to see. So my point here is to keep variation in your rewards according to the work you do with your dog. The goal is to keep the dog interested and motivated to the work.
Of course marker training goes way beyond what I just explained in a nutshell. There are many more variables we need to take into account. Marker training is easy but complex at the same time. Reaad also the article "phases of training" on this blog what will explain you more about each step of training. For people interested in learning more about marker training check my website for announcements of seminars and lectures. You may always send me an email if you would like to organize a private session.