Welcome to my brand-new training tips blog, where I will be posting a new article each quarter with professional training tips. If your furry friend needs to brush up on their manners, or even learn commands for the first time, you’re in the right place!
For the first quarter I want to talk about marker words, because they are the foundation for effective training and the first thing we need to do when training a dog or puppy. Marker words help you communicate simply and quickly with your dog so there’s less confusion and more success!
I personally use three different markers: yes, no, and free. You don’t have to use the same ones that I do, but be sure to choose one-syllable words that you don’t find yourself saying often out of habit. That way it’s easier to avoid saying them by accident, which can confuse your dog.
Marker words are important because they enable you to give feedback to your dog the instant that the behavior is happening, instead of after the behavior has passed. For instance, your dog might only sit for a fraction of a second (especially at first) and you want to let him know right away—while he is actually sitting—that he’s doing the right thing, instead of when he has already stood up again.
In order for your pup to understand the marker we have to condition them to the word. Essentially, you are creating a new common language between you and your dog! Here is a breakdown of how I do that for each one.
I use yes to let the dog know that the behavior they are doing at that moment is what I want.
I condition this marker by saying it, then following a second after with a treat. Repeat this over and over for about a minute or two each session. I do this about three times a day for 2-3 days. Be sure to actually wait a second after you say the word before giving the treat. This is what gives the marker word its power. After this conditioning process, your dog will know what the word means even if they don’t get a treat.
Example: I say sit, and as soon as they go into the sit position I mark it yes, then follow a second later with a treat.
I use no as a way of letting the dog know that the behavior they are doing at the moment is not what I asked them to do.
We need a way to communicate that no means they’ve done something other than what you wanted, otherwise it’s just a sound that doesn’t mean anything. I do this by conditioning them with a leash pop a second after I say the word no. A leash pop is just what it sounds like—a quick tug on the leash and then immediately releasing it. This should be a firm and short action, not dragging or pulling on your dog.
Note: I only condition no once I have taught them what I want. If they don’t have the hang of the command yet, I will not correct them with no. They need to build confidence and understand what you want first.
Example: Let’s say the dog is at a point where he knows what to do when I say sit. I will know this because he’s done it many times successfully over the past few sessions. But then I tell him to sit and he chooses not to. I immediately mark that with no and give a leash pop right after the word.
The last word is my release marker. It lets them know that they are free to do as they please. I normally condition this throughout their training from the very beginning.
Example: I tell the dog down. They go into the correct position and hold it for a minute. I then say free to let the dog know it is okay to come out of the down position and move about freely. I’ll also use my body language to help them understand what this means by using an excited voice and moving around in a fun way that encourages them to get up and move with me. After a few times, they’ll catch on and then you can stop the silly dances!
A Few More Tips
For markers to be the most effective they should stay consistent in sound. Try not to let emotion into your voice, or say them in a high-pitched tone one time and then low-pitched the next. I always try to stay monotone when using a marker word.
Timing is crucial—you don’t want to mark before or after the behavior, only during.
It’s important to teach them yes first, and to start training them on commands using only yes and free before moving onto no.
I hope this helps you understand what marker words are a little better, and how to use them! Don’t miss out on more pro tips right here next quarter, but in the meantime, you can always visit my website and contact me at k9lifelessons.com.