Effectively teach your dog with a clicker. Dog training made easy!
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When I first start teaching the verbal command, I prefer to use the terminal marker. This is why I like to treat the clicker as a terminal marker. This gives me an opportunity to do multiple reps in a short amount of time and it relieves me of the added pressure of trying to reinforce a stay. In addition, the dogs will learn to perform the behaviors more quickly, because they will learn that the faster they perform the command, the faster they will be released and rewarded. Keep in mind that speed is based on motivation. The more motivated your dog is, the faster they’ll move.
We also have a non-reinforcement marker, and this is for mistakes. For example, if you tell your dog to sit, and the dog downs instead, you would use your non-reinforcement marker and then you would re-command the sit. Once the dog sits, you would then reward the dog. Giving a dog the ability to make mistakes and try again is imperative. If the dog gets corrected for making a mistake too early in training, then the dog will become cautious and is less likely to try new things, which would make it more difficult to teach new behaviors.
I also like to teach a marker that signals negative reinforcement. This is very useful when teaching the stay command or if you wanted to teach your dog to not jump on the furniture. This helps your dog to learn what they can and can’t do without receiving a form of positive punishment. The type of negative reinforcement that it predicts is leash pressure. In this video, I’ll use the word “Wrong”.
This part of the training only requires that we teach our dog the terminal marker. The exercise goes as follows:
• Get your dog’s attention.
• Once your dog is looking at you, you use your clicker.
• Deliver the reward. Note: the marker sound must come before you move to deliver the reward. If you click while you’re giving the dog the reward, your dog will never become conditioned to the sound.
• Wait until your dog eats the first reward and looks back at you. Again, use your clicker, followed by moving away from your dog, encouraging your dog to come and get the second reward.
When doing this exercise, I prefer to go back and forth between handing the pup the reward and making the dog come and get the reward. I also recommend switching your supply hand and your distribution hand. You will continue to do sessions of this exercise until your dog is conditioned to the clicker. When done correctly most dogs will become conditioned within a day or two.
Ivan Pavlov knew his dogs were conditioned to a marker because they’d salivate. The way I test a dog to see if it’s conditioned is I will say or click the marker (the sound that predicts the reward), and instead of giving the reward, I watch them for any changes of behavior. These are the four most common:
• Opening their mouths
• Licking their lips
• Moving their paws
On the other hand, if all they give you is a blank stare—you’ll know they’re not conditioned.
Now that your dog is conditioned to each marker, you may be wondering how long you have to deliver the primary reinforcer before you lose the connection. Well, you have as much time as the dog is paying attention. This could be any length of time until the dog is distracted (if a rabbit runs by and catches your dog’s attention, you’ve lost it). This means you don’t have to rush the delivery of the reward.
Next, when using a marker make sure your dog is doing a behavior that you like. Don’t make the common mistake of using the marker to get your dog’s attention. Meaning, your dog is not paying attention to you, so you use the marker to get your dog to look at you. Even though your dog looks at you after you say the marker, the dog was actually being rewarded for looking away from you.
Lastly, if you use your marker, you must pay your dog with the primary. A marker only has value because it ALWAYS predicts the primary reinforcer.
Once we teach our dog the marker, we then move to the next step, which is to show the dog what we want them to perform.
(Note: before each training session I like to do engagement training for 15 – 30 seconds. This helps get the dog focused and in the right mindset to learn and maximize the results from each session.)