Will I have to use a marker forever?
No, absolutely not. Once a behaviour is on cue, you no longer use the marker UNTIL you want to train a NEW behaviour. A marker is simply a tool that creates a common language.
Do I have to use food forever?
No, however, when training a behaviour you have to use a reinforcer. A reinforcer is anything your dog wants including treats, toys, going outside, cuddling with you, sniffing a tree, etc. Our goal is to have our dogs working for us on or off leash, in or out of the house, and whether or not you have a marker and a treat.
Why can’t I just use food or praise? Isn’t that still positive training?
Yes it is, but there are a few special things about the marker that make it more effective than just a treat or praise: The marker acts like a tiny camera in the dog’s mind. It takes of picture of the exact moment he made a good choice.
Treats and praise are usually delivered after the dog has performed the behaviour making it harder for the dog to link the reinforcer with the action. By using a marker, your dog will learn desirable behaviour amazingly quickly. The marker is also distinct from other signals in the environment and always signals ‘good choice/reinforcement coming’.
My daughter wants to train the dog, can SHE use a marker?
Absolutely, anyone can teach your dog. Dogs trained to listen only to a dominant voice will often not listen to children in the family. With a marker, everyone can play a part in teaching the dog. Marker training is fun for everyone, including the dog!
Do I always have to provide a treat after I mark?
You have to provide a reinforcer each and every time. The marker means ‘good choice/reinforcement is coming’—usually in the form of a treat or a toy.
If I don’t use a command, how will my dog know what we are working on?
Your dog is undoubtedly very smart but he is not born knowing your spoken language. In marker training we add the cue (or command) AFTER the dog has learned to do the behaviour. In effect, we give the behaviour a name once the dog is doing it. This can be a hard concept to get used to but it is extremely effective. “Get the behavior then name the behavior”
There is so much to know and it is all so new. What if I make mistakes?
The good thing about positive reinforcement training is that it is a very gentle way of training. If we make mistakes, it may take a little longer to teach a behaviour, but that doesn’t matter to our dogs. Our dogs are very forgiving creatures. Even if you make mistakes, you will not cause your dog, or your relationship with your dog, any harm with positive reinforcement training.
Can a dog that has been trained “traditionally” learn with a marker?
Absolutely. “Crossover” trainers are often amazed at the change that comes over their dogs when they switch to marker training and particularly to concept games. Previously hesitant and shy dogs become enthusiastic and creative learners. To try marker training with a dog previously trained with traditional methods, don’t begin with a behavior the dog already knows—try something completely new and fun…preferably a trick.