Using a marker word, is a simple and effective way we can communicate to our dogs when teaching them either new behaviours, or what we want them to do.
There are lots of behaviours we can teach dogs using marker words, we can teach them to heel and walk close to us, we can teach them to stay calm around distractions, and we can teach them new tricks like spin and high five
Using a marker word is very similar to using a clicker and works in the same way. However, it can sometimes be a handful to juggle treats, a lead and a clicker. So, using a marker word is something we can do wherever we are – because it’s just using our voice. If you want to use a clicker, the steps are exactly the same.
When we ‘mark’ a behaviour we easily and effectively communicate to out dogs that what they are doing – in that exact moment in time - is good. Imagine someone is training a dolphin to jump out of the water and through a hoop, you can’t exactly reward the dolphin with some fish as they are mid jump, but what you can do is use a clicker to ‘mark’ the behaviour and toss them a reward when they have completed the jump, the dolphin then knows that the act of jumping through the hoop deserves the reward, and a reward is coming.
Choose a simple marker word, such as ‘yes’. Ideally choose a word with 1 syllable that is easy to say and remember. Marker words differ from general praise, the rule of a marker word is that a treat will ALWAYS follow. So, try choosing a word that is different from praise, we often say good girl or good boy, so try not to use those phrases when marking.
To being using a marker word we need to associate the word with a reward, all you have to do is sit with your dog with some treats in your hand – you can break up a cocktail sausage into about 20 pieces (it’s all about the flavour not the quantity). Say your marker word ‘yes’, then follow with a treat, wait a few seconds and repeat. The length of time you have to do this depends on your dog but keep going, if you say your marker word and your dog looks immediately towards you as if waiting for a treat – you are ready!
Watch your dog closely when you are training, try to ‘catch’ the behaviours with the marker word. The treat can follow after a couple of seconds.
Using a marker word is a powerful form of communication, whenever they hear the marker word, they will know that whatever they are doing in that moment is a good thing to do. This means they are more likely to do the behaviour again!
Marker words and clickers are effective reward-based techniques. We want our dogs to think and make a choice to do a certain behaviour because it’s rewarding for them, we don’t want them to do behaviours or avoid doing behaviours out of fear or through force. If a behaviour is rewarding, dogs will choose to do it.
More information on clicker training can be found below.