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A marker word is any word that you use to tell your dog they did something great. Often we think we’re communicating well with our dogs when we’re really not.
“Good boy Rex! What a good sit! Who’s a good boy!”
Dogs LOVE getting verbal praise, but they do not always understand what exactly got them that praise. If they don’t know what they did correctly then they won’t be able to repeat it!
Humans are also slow when it comes to reaching for and delivering treats in training. If a dog gets a treat 5-10 seconds after they sat, they won’t know that it was the sit that got them rewarded. A marker word solves this.
A marker word communicates the exact moment your dog has done something you liked and want repeated. This can make dog training much faster & easier for both you and your dog.
I strongly suggest using a marker word for dog training!
In this article we’ll cover:
- What is a marker word?
- Why I use a marker word rather than a clicker
- How to load and use it
What is a marker word?
Essentially, a marker word is a word you use to communicate to your dog “Good job! That was what I wanted!”. When used properly, it marks the exact moment your dog does a desirable behavior so that they understand what they did correctly.
We’ll discuss how to load & use a marker word later, but basically you want your dog to associate the word with “Oh boy I’m about to get a treat!”
Dogs repeat behaviors that get them what they want.
For example, if you give your dog a treat for sitting they will be more likely to sit in the future! For this training to work however, the dog needs to understand that the sit got them the treat!
When we fumble to grab the treat out of our bag and accidentally give it to our dog 10 seconds later when they’ve already stood up they don’t understand that it was the sit that was rewarded. If you’ve pre-loaded a marker word such as “yes”, and use it the second the dogs butt touches the ground they’ll actually understand what they did correctly. Our words are faster than our hands!
So what word should you use as a marker?
You can use any word as a marker. You’ll want to pick a word that is short, easy to remember, and not something you’ll often use in conversations.
My favorite is “Yes!” but both “Good!” and “Nice!” are also commonly used. You can pick something obscure as long as you’ll remember to use it!
Why I think a marker word is better than a clicker:
Clickers are commonly suggested in positive reinforcement, force-free dog training. They work the same way as a marker word and they have a very distinct sound.
I have nothing against clicker training and do see the benefits (the dog won’t hear that particular sound anywhere else).
However, I prefer using a marker word instead of a clicker for two huge reasons:
- If you use the clicker you need to always have it on you to be able to mark good behavior. This can be hard to remember! Your marker word is always readily available.
- It’s faster to say a word than reach for the clicker and press it, so it pinpoints the dogs good behavior even better.
Both methods allow you to “mark” the exact moment your dog did what you wanted. The mark tells your dog precisely what they did correctly rather than them needing to guess what you liked.
Both clickers and marker words function similarly, so use the method you prefer!
How to load a marker word:
A marker word by itself is meaningless. “Yes” is a positive word to us, but dogs do not understand English. However, they strongly understand associations. We need to load the marker word so they understand that “Yes!” means a reward is on the way!
Your dog should eventually get as excited to hear the marker word as they are to see a treat because to the dog they’ll mean the same thing! This is classical conditioning at it’s most basic form.
This will be the easiest training you’ll ever do with your dog! It’s simply building the association that yes!=treat.
Step 1: Say your marker word. So for me, I say “Yes!”
Step 2: Immediately give your dog a treat! Make sure your dog only sees the treat after you’ve said your word. Your dog does not need to do anything to get the treat. Give a treat every time you say “yes!”.
Step 3: Repeat steps 1-2 at least 10x. You’ll know when your dog understands their word when they get excited to hear it.
That’s it! I told you it was the easiest dog training you’ll ever do.
You may want to repeat steps 1-3 a few days in a row to solidify the meaning for your dog.
How to use a marker word
Now that you’ve built the meaning of your marker word, what do you do with it?
You want your marker word to specifically mean: “What you just did is what I want you to keep doing!”.
You want to use “Yes!” at the exact moment your dog does what you’re training them to do.
Let’s use lying down as an example. You’d say “Yes!” the second your dogs belly hits the floor, then follow it up with a treat.
If you’re training sit, you’ll say “Yes!” the second your dogs butt touches the ground.
Remember to always follow the mark with a treat!
Happy training 🙂
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