October 31, 2019

A marker can be any sound that has been paired with a primary reinforcer such as food so that it can precisely indicate to the dog that what it has done at that point in time will earn reinforcement.  A marker can be a word or a sound such as a whistle or a clicker. 

What anyone who has done training with food rewards knows is that it works.  Dogs who get treats for doing things tend to do those behaviours more often in the future.  However, just dishing out cookies for stuff that the dog does is imprecise.  Let’s take a sit for example.  The dog sits and you give it a treat.  It sat, right?  But what exactly did your dog associate with getting the treat?  She knows she got a treat and can guess it was for something she did in the last several seconds. But there can be a lot of choices in this time frame.  It could be that she was looking at you before she sat; it could be movement of her feet; what about standing up immediately her rump hit the floor?  Given enough repetitions she would probably work out which of these options is present most often.  And in the end, she would probably figure out that sitting was what you wanted her to do.  

But the question now is what did the sit look like?  Was it a nice square sit?  Or did she sit on her hip – a sloppy, puppy sit?  She might start out with a square sit but quickly collapsed into a sloppy sit which just happened to be the time when she got the treat!

On the other hand, if you use a well-timed marker, she will know that it’s about her rump hitting the floor because each time she does this the marker always happens just then and the marker predicts a reward is coming.  This is much clearer communication with your dog.  Consistency and Clarity.     


October 14, 2019

What qualities make a good trainer? We’ve all seen someone who makes training a dog look simple and effortless. What is it about these trainers that sets them apart?

  • Good trainers reinforce correct responses rather than punish incorrect ones.
  • Good trainers raise criteria gradually.
  • Good trainers split behaviour into tiny slices instead of trying to teach large complex lumps.
  • Good trainers learn to observe what the dogs are doing and how they are responding.
  • Good trainers are prepared to go back a step or two if the dog is not succeeding.
  • Good trainers keep their rate of reinforcement high in the early stages of learning and are careful about the timing of their responses.
  • Good trainers consistently give the dog feedback.
  • Good trainers know that undesirable behaviour only happens because it has, in some way been reinforced, either inadvertently by themselves or members of their families, or by something in the dog’s environment.

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