A behaviour marker is an awesome tool! And is simply a word or a sound which lets your dog know in the exact moment that she has done something correct and should expect a reward. The marker pinpoints that exact moment, providing accuracy and clear communication between you and your dog.
Behaviour markers can be any word, sound.. anything which you choose, but it must be consistent. You will commonly have seen a clicker used for this purpose but You can also choose to use a verbal marker. It should be a short, snappy word and again, must stay consistent. For my dogs. I say “Yes” .
If you're working with a deaf dog then physical touch might be considered as an option, however if the dog is flighty, nervous, has tactile issues or is simply too far away from you, then using touch as a marker may not be the best choice. With my deaf dogs, I use the flash of a torch or a thumbs up hand signal as behaviour marker and which I use is dependent on what I'm teaching at the time.
When you are choosing your marker word, then choose it with foresight. A pay out should ALWAYS come after a marker, even if you give that marker by accident. So avoid choosing a word which your going to say a lot in general conversation. A marker with no pay out will lose its power.
Timing is key when marking a behaviour, so if your timing isn’t quite on point then you may find a verbal marker is the better choice for you. Clickers offer precision marking however if your timing is off, you could be marking the wrong behaviour.
Once you’ve chosen your behaviour marker then you need to teach your dog what it means. It’s essential that you pair that marker with a reward, and build a positive and solid association. When the dog hears the sound, or hand signal or whatever marker you’ve chosen, then they should be able to predict that the pay out comes next. This is really simple to do.
Simply give your marker and immediately deliver the payout. Do this over and over and very soon when you give that marker you will see your dogs eyes light up, and you might even get a nose lick. Once that association is made then your ready to go. Practice first with simple behaviours or behaviours which are already taught and then go for it.
A top tip is to video your training sessions and then watch them back to check if your timing is as on point as you think it is. If your timing is a bit off then you practice without your dog using a tennis ball. Throw it against a wall or off the ground and try to predict when its going to bounce and mark the moment the ball hits the floor.
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