17 Jul Training Markers and Clickers
Without speech and our understanding of the spoken word, our lives as social animals would be very, very different. Inflection, the slight nuances in our verbal communication, convey almost as much information as the words alone. This sensitivity to our tone can be both a blessing and a curse with regards to communicating with your dog.
Our tone of voice changes depending on our mood, health, and hydration. The list is endless. Clarity makes for effective communication, especially with animals that don’t or can’t understand the meaning of our vocal inflections or the context of our words.
Training markers aim to attach a precise meaning to a particular word or sound, in the context of relaying the message, “That’s right! Do that again!”
Of Words and Sounds
For the purpose of this tutorial, we will use “Good” as our marker word for an action we would like repeated.
A small noisemaker called a clicker is a common marker tool used in place of a verbal marker. When paired with precise human timing, the clicker is the ultimate in clarity for marking behavior.
Pressing the button on the clicker creates a sharp, clear, single “click” sound. The quick and consistent sound of the “click” is what makes the clicker such a powerful tool in communicating with your dog.
Unlike our voice, which is always changing, the “click” sound made by the clicker always sounds the same. A consistent, instant sound equals clear communication.
Until we condition a meaning to training markers (sound or word), it exists as a foreign language to the dog.
Conditioning the Marker
Meaning is conditioned to the marker by pairing it with an already established reinforcer such as a food treat or tug toy. The most efficient method of attaching meaning to the marker is by presenting it just before the reward after a known command is executed.
For example, you ask your dog to “Sit.” The instant the reality of the Sit matches your image of Sit perfection; you mark (say “Good” or click) and offer a treat. As you repeat this sequence, your marker will begin to be associated with the reward given for the correct execution of a command. In technical terms, your marker will become a conditioned reinforcer.
While establishing meaning, you want to pair the marker with a command so that the dog understands the marker happens as a result of his actions rather than just an indicator that a reward is coming.
The sequence should always be:
Action → Mark → Reward
The Importance of Timing
Although the concept of using training markers is rather simple, it does require practice to be most effective. Think of your marker (especially the clicker) like the shutter button on a flash camera. You aim, wait for the exact second you can capture the perfect shot, and you press the button. If you pressed the shutter button at just the right moment, the photo captures what you intended. However, if your timing was off, you still captured an image, just not the one you intended to capture. This analogy perfectly illustrates the need for impeccable timing when using a marker, and the ease in which it’s possible to capture (mark) an action you hadn’t intend to capture.
Please contact us if you have any questions regarding the use of training markers or clickers.