Dogs see the world very differently than we do. Their senses work differently from ours. Their brains process information differently. Dogs also have their own means of communication that are often unavailable to us. All this makes trying to get along with the dog can be much more difficult than we think. Therefore, it is good to create a common language that will be understandable both to us and our dogs. Improve your Relationship with your Dog can be very helpful in creating such a language.
In general, markers are all signals that help us communicate with the dog. These can be sound markers, e.g. words spoken by us or the sound of a clicker, visual markers, e.g. gestures, various objects and tactile markers. The latter are especially useful when working with dogs that cannot see and hear. For such dogs, touching the shoulder blade, ear, or mouth can provide the clearest signal.
The use of markers during training makes it easier for the dog to understand us. Thanks to this, he is less frustrated, better focused on the task and learns new commands much faster. Markers can be used both during training sessions and in everyday communication with the dog.
We can distinguish at least six types of markers depending on their function in communication with the dog.
The readiness marker is usually the dog’s name. When uttering them during training, we ask the dog, “Hey, are you ready to go?” When the dog looks at us, we have a clear affirmative answer and we can give him an order. When we don’t have the dog’s attention, the chance that it will obey our command drops drastically. We also need to focus on the task in order to do it well. When our thoughts are elsewhere, we may not even hear that someone is asking us for something, and it looks similar in our dogs.
For many dogs, a sachet of treats or toys can be a marker of readiness, i.e. a signal to start work. If these accessories always appear during training, the dog will quickly recognize them. Our clothes can also be a marker of readiness. Dogs know perfectly well in which shoes we go to work and which shoes are intended for a walk or training. For some dogs, entering a designated area is a marker of readiness. There are many possibilities here.
Reward markers tell your dog that they are doing something right, may be finished, and that they will be rewarded in a moment. A popular marker for a reward is the clicker sound. It is very precise, so we can mark exactly the behavior we want. It is also unambiguous, repeatable and unique, so the dog will not confuse it with other sounds in the environment.
We can also use short voiced words such as “yes”, “si” or “tak” as a reward marker. It is best to chant them differently from the words used in everyday life. We don’t want common words to get confused dog with a reward marker. It is also very important that this award always appears after the award signal. It doesn’t always have to be a treat. Many dogs prefer to work for example for playing with their handler.
You can also have many different reward markers depending on what the reward will be and where it will appear. For example, we can use a clicker as a food marker. The word “have” may mean that food will appear on the ground, and the word “catch” may be an announcement of a toy that we will throw to the dog as a reward for correctly carrying out a command.
The lack of reward marker is a signal for the dog that something went wrong and that this time it will not get the reward. The most commonly used markers of no reward are the words “no”, “ee”, or “ooh.” After saying these words, we simply do not give the dog a reward, which of course is a kind of punishment. It can be compared to playing with the heat of the cold, where warm means we’re getting closer and cold means we’re farther away. Likewise, in communicating with the dog, we can use a clicker or other reward markers to inform him that he is doing something right and markers of lack of reward when he does something carelessly or wrong.
On the one hand, the more feedback you give your dog during training, the better. Try to play with heat cold, using only the word “warm”. Achieving a goal this way is usually much more difficult and frustrating than in play where we get both pieces of information. On the other hand, many people misuse the no reward signal. Words like “no” and “ee” are usually characterized by negative emotions. The no reward marker should be emotionally neutral. You cannot take your frustration or anger out on the dog. If you can’t control your own emotions, you’d better not use the no reward marker. It will also not work for dogs with a very delicate psyche. For such dogs, any dissatisfaction on the part of the handler creates enormous pressure, which these dogs simply cannot cope with.
Also, the no reward signal may not be used when the dog does not know what is required of him or when he does not know what exactly he did wrong. Imagine a situation where you learn a foreign language from scratch and the teacher constantly says “no”, “wrong” etc. This method of learning will not be effective and will quickly discourage you. Imagine a situation where you read a longer piece of text to your teacher and the teacher says “no” at some point. Does it give you clear information when you made a mistake and what exactly was it? Without clear guidance from the teacher, it is not so obvious.
It is similar with the marker of lack of reward when training the dog. The dog often does not know what he has done wrong and how he can correct it. It only adds to the frustration and does not get any closer to achieving the goal. Therefore, when the dog is not following a command correctly, it is usually best to simply go back to an earlier stage in learning. Before demanding anything from a dog, we must make sure that it knows exactly what we mean.
Due to all the reservations and mistakes that are very easy to make, I advise you to be very careful when introducing no reward markers into your training. If you decide to use them, it’s best to do it under the supervision of a more experienced trainer.
When training a dog, we often not only want him to assume a position, e.g. sit or lie down, but also to keep this position for a long time. This is where the continuation markers are very helpful, that is, popular praise such as “bravo” or “good”. Hearing these words, the dog knows that he is doing well and that he has to continue this behavior in order to get a reward.
Unfortunately, many dog handlers forget about these praises. They say, for example, “sit down”, the dog sits down for two seconds, but nothing happens, there is no human feedback. The dog may feel that he is doing something wrong. So she gets up and sits down again. Nothing again? This begins to give the paw, lie down, and display other behaviors that previously rewarded. This way the dog tries to guess what you really mean. If your dog is behaving this way, it is very possible that your communication during training is not the best and it is worth introducing continuation markers.
Another very useful marker is the release marker. I wrote a little more about him in this post. The release marker tells the dog that the exercise is over and that he can do something else. For example, when we teach the dog to sit down and extend this position, it is worth teaching him that a speed marker will appear at the end of the exercise. In my case it’s the word “ok”, but you can also use other words like “already”, “can” or “run”. Thanks to this, the dog does not get impatient, but calmly waits for the release marker. Without this marker, the dog may break commands frequently, as it will never know when the exercise is over.
The End Marker can be used at the end of a training session or at the end of a game. An excited dog may not know when a training session is over and will demand our attention long after it is over. Therefore, it is worth introducing an end marker, which means “This is the end of training / fun. You are free, do what you want. ” For me, it is the word “end”, but I also encountered the command “free” or “thank you”. After issuing the end marker, we hide the treats, toys and do not take care of the dog. We don’t play with him. We don’t give any orders anymore.
It is possible that you are already using some of these markers in a more or less conscious way. It is very important to systematize them and create your own dictionary of communication with the dog. Think in what situations and why you want to use the marker. What word, sound or gesture will the marker mean. If this is not clear to you, how is your dog going to get it?
Of course, all people training with a dog should use the same dictionary. Dogs are very intelligent, and even if one person uses a marker and another doesn’t, the dog will figure out what’s going on over time. However, this is an additional difficulty for the dog, which significantly extends the training and may be a source of unnecessary frustration for the dog. It is as if he had to speak a different language to each member of the family.
It is also important to teach each marker that we use in communication with the dog first. Dogs aren’t born knowing what a clicker sound means or words like “ok”, “bravo” or “finished”. At the beginning, all these sounds are neutral for the dog and only we, during appropriate training, give them meaning.
I am very curious, which markers do you consciously or unconsciously use in communicating with your dogs?