This post is taken from the complete course material for MJ's Training Foundations (Self-study).
What is a marker?
When training animals there is a lot more going on than what we might initially notice. You can ask your dog to sit and feed him a treat to pay him for the sit, but what happened between those two actions? How did you tell your dog that the treat you gave him was for the sit he performed?
Sit is one of the most simple examples. As you advance with training, you can train your dog just about anything. This works for other species as well! Animals can learn complex behaviors and behavior chains. Can your dog bring you items by name, fake a limp, jump rope, alert you when your alarm clock goes off and assist you when you drop an item? All of these things are possible for your dog to learn, and training can take the relationship you share with your dog to new and truly amazing places.
If you want to take your training to the next level, it’s important to be skilled at getting the behaviors you want, telling the animal exactly when he did and what you are looking for (this could be as precise as marking a muscle movement) with excellent timing and reward delivery. There are techniques involved in all of this including how to deliver the reward.
Clear communication is the key to smooth training. I often use the term “clean training” when I am talking about training that is very smooth and when the animal and trainer are communicating clearly. It is amazing to watch and be a part of. This means the animal is listening (or watching) for his marker and when his trainer tells him that he has it right, he understands to repeat that behavior again.
What is a marker?
A marker is a sound or signal that we use intentionally to tell the animal when he does what we are looking for. A clicker is a training tool which is commonly used as a marker. Signals can be used for animals that can not hear. Touches can even be used for animals that can not see nor hear.
The marker is something we control and use with purpose. We don’t want the animal to simply watch for when we go to reach for a treat or figuring out our other tells. We want the animal working to make the click happen.
Using a marker such as a clicker allows the trainer to break up the most complex behaviors and mark tiny steps to help the animal learn the finished behavior.
Mark and reward desired behaviors. You get what you reward.
Here are a few more tips on marker training:
-Charging up the clicker is the first step in clicker training. First prepare a few small treats that your dog really enjoys. Hold your clicker away from your dog so the noise does not startle him the first time he hears it. Press your clicker to sound the click and immediately feed your dog a tasty treat. Wait a few seconds and repeat.
-Notice where your hands are placed when clicking. You want your dog to listen for the click, not watch for body movement that might indicate a treat is coming. For example if at the same time you are clicking your other hand is taking the treat out of your pocket, your dog will be watching for you to go for the treat rather than just listening for the click. Do not point the clicker at your dog like a remote control. Simply click with your hands still and then give your dog the treat.
-Every click is followed by a treat reward.
-You can use the marker and rewards to train behaviors and phase them out.
-You can also train a marker word and different types of markers. Example: “Yes.”