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How a Reward Marker Can Help Your Training

Updated: Apr 14

Imagine you are putting together a large entertainment center you just bought from IKEA. Now imagine you do not have the directions and you have no one to tell you if you are doing it right or not. How do you think you would feel? Frustrated? Confused? Overwhelmed? All of the above? Well, I hate to tell you this but, that is often how our dogs feel if we are trying to get them to do something but we are not effective with our instructions or feedback. What would help this situation is to be able to tell your dog exactly what it is you want and exactly when it is being done correctly. That is where a reward marker comes in. A reward marker is a sound that indicates a treat has been earned and will be delivered because your dog did the targeted behavior. It is a way to tell your dog, in real-time, that he did the right thing! 

Most people are familiar with clickers, even if they just have casual knowledge that they exist. While there is nothing magical about the sound of the click, if it is trained to, it is a simple way to indicate a “treat” is coming for the desired behavior. However, we often advocate for just using a special word or sound to avoid needing yet another tool with you while you are training. With your voice, you can communicate the exact behavior you are seeking. For example, if you are teaching a dog to “Sit” from a slight distance, you want to be able to tell your dog as soon as his butt hits the ground that this is the behavior being rewarded, since you cannot get a treat into his mouth at exactly the right time. In fact, in that scenario, the dog would likely get up as you reach for the treat. Then you may be rewarding the dog for getting up and not his sitting, confusing him as to what you want. I like to think of that click or marker word as you taking a picture of the behavior you want. What picture would your camera show when you are saying your reward marker word? Pay close attention to this as you will get to your goals faster by being clear and precise when you “take your picture.”

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