What's the point of using a marker?
Using a marker makes the learning process a lot clearer to your dog, because it is a lot easier to say your marker at the exact moment the behavior happens, than it is to deliver a reward at the exact moment the behavior happens. For example, if you are trying to train your dog to lay down, but when you reach for the treat, your dog stands up, they are learning to stand up, not to lay down. With a marker, you are able to be more precise about which behavior you are reinforcing, which means your dog will be able to learn more efficiently and confidently.
How do I get started using a marker?
Getting started with a marker is easy: just sit in front of your dog, say your marker or click your clicker, then give a treat. Repeat this at least 20 times in a row. Your dog doesn’t need to do anything special here, you’re simply “charging up” the value of the marker cue. In order for the marker to do its job, your dog needs to understand that the marker is always followed by the reward.
You may choose to have more than one marker, which can be a good idea. I like to use a calm marker and a high energy marker. I use “niiice” as my calm marker, when I’m trying to promote a calm energy, like teaching a dog to relax in bed, to feel less stressed in a new situation, or to play LAT (more on that in a later post). I use a clicker or an excited “yes!” when I’m working on something more high energy, like a fun game, a new skill or trick, or recall.
After you've "charged up" your marker, you're ready to start using it to teach your dog! At the moment your dog performs a desired behavior, you’ll say your marker word or click, and then reward them with a desirable reward (treat/toy/play/praise). Remember, the marker should always be followed by a reward in order to remain an effective teaching tool.