Reward marker training (commonly called clicker training) is my preferred method for teaching dogs new behaviors. It is easy, precise, and makes training fun for both the dog and the handler. But what exactly is reward marker training? Very simply, it is a way to communicate clearly with your dog. It means using a signal (a click of a clicker, a verbal sound like the word “yes”, or a hand signal such as a “thumbs-up”) to tell your dog the exact moment he has done something that will earn a reward.
Do you have to use a clicker?
You do not have to use a clicker. In fact, in classes, we generally start students with using a verbal reward marker such as the word “Yes” rather than the clicker. Many students find this a little easier and less intimidating while they are learning to train. Plus, some sound sensitive dogs are nervous about the clicker sound at first. But I love the clicker (and so does my dog!) and there are some advantages to using a clicker especially when you are first teaching a new behavior. The primary advantage is that the clicker can be very precise and this can speed up the training.
How does it work?
It is fabulously simple. First we teach the dog that the click, yes, or thumbs-up means he has won a treat. Then we use the signal to tell the dog when he has done something we like. Here is an example when training your dog to respond to his or her name:
Say your dog’s name, “Fido”
When your dog turns his head in response, you say “yes” or click. This marks the exact moment the dog responded.
You then follow that “yes” or click with a reward such as a treat.
The reward marker gives your dog instant, specific feedback.
Reward marker training is a super fun, efficient, and effective way to teach your dog to do something new. If you are interested in learning more, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me!
Training Tip: Charging up a reward marker
In order to effectively use reward marker training, we need to teach our dog that the click, yes, or thumbs-up means a reward (such as a treat) is coming. Here’s how to do it:
Grab a handful of really yummy treats cut into small pieces.
Every time you thumbs-up, yes or click, give your dog a treat (be careful not to thumbs-up, yes or click and treat at the same time; the treat must follow the marker, not precede or coincide with it).
Do this standing up, sitting down, while moving about, indoors, outdoors. Basically, make sure your dog understands that the marker–thumbs-up, yes or click–means treat in all situations.
Do the exercise a few times a day for a few minutes at a time until, when you thumbs-up, yes or click, you notice that your dog is eagerly anticipating the treat.
Don’t give away that a treat is coming except with the thumbs-up, yes or click. For example, be careful not to reach for a treat, point the clicker toward the dog, or reach toward him with the treat before you click or say “Yes.” Train yourself to insert a count or a word before you hand over the treat: “Yes.” One one-thousand. Treat.