Pandemic Dog Training Challenge 1B: Teaching a Training Language

April 3, 2020

Now that you are a competent and confident speaker of your chosen markers you can teach your dog! If you have no idea what I’m talking about see Challenge 1A.

How do you know if you’re ready you ask? Aim for the ability to use your markers correctly 90% of the time or more. Here’s a summary of the markers as I use them for your review before you begin to work with your dog:

Remember, this is my system, it doesn’t have to be yours. I’m not claiming it is the best system or the “right” system, it is simply what works for me. If you have your own, great! If you want something easier, choose one word or sound and use that for all types of treat delivery.

Below you will find Fish demonstrating our marker system in action. He knows these words and what they mean already so you can see how his body reacts automatically when he hears them.

He pops into motion toward my hand when he hears, “Yes”.

He starts looking toward my hand and the ground when he hears, “Get it”.

He waits in place when he hears, “Nice”.

These are all signs of his understanding of our shared language. These automatic responses are the reason I use a number of different markers. They help me control what his body does in the process of getting food which can place him where I need him for the next repetition of training. This is not required of course, but it does save time, and make for fluid training sessions.

Things to note:

  • When you’re teaching this language to your dog they don’t have to be doing anything in particular. Sometimes I fed Fisher for nothing, sometimes I fed him for things I liked.
    • All you must establish right now is that word/sound = food available in X way.
    • Right now your main focus is, “can I do these mechanics correctly and feed my dog” rather than teaching any particular behavior.
    • If you feel more secure marking for a particular behavior, pick eye contact.
  • Your dog is not going to have the automatic body reactions that Fisher does in the video when you are teaching this language. They come with time and repetition. Here are some troubleshooting options:
    • If you say “nice” and your dog moves toward you, before you can deliver the treat to his mouth, it’s OK. Stand closer to your dog the next time so that food can be delivered without the chance to move forward.
    • If you say “yes”, perform the action, and your dog doesn’t move to follow your hand try taking a step backward.
    • If you say “get it”, throw the treat, and your dog doesn’t move to take the treat off of the ground or can’t find it, go to the treat and tap near it with your foot or point to encourage your dog to get the treat.
  • You can switch between markers (if using more than one) in any way you choose. Here is how I suggest you organize your sessions from easy to hard.:
    • Easy: One marker type per session, many repetitions.
      • When you and your dog are 80% or more successful with each marker you can move to the next level.
    • Medium: Switch marker types, multiple repetitions of the same marker in a row.
      • Start by mixing different combinations of 2 markers, then 3 markers, then all 4.
      • If you are only using one marker, mix food delivery types using the same marker, combinations of 2 delivery types, then 3 delivery types.
      • When you and your dog are 80% or more successful with all markers/delivery types in the same session you can move to the next level.
    • Hard: Switch your marker every repetition.
      • Single marker people switch food delivery types.
      • Multiple marker people switch through all of your markers at random.
      • When you and your dog are 80% successful, congrats, you’re ready to use your marker(s) to teach a behavior.
  • My hands are sitting at different anchor points throughout the session, choose one, it’s easier.
  • Messing up is OK! It will happen. if something goes wrong, just feed your dog anyway. No big deal. Life goes on. I caught at least one of my own in that video. Even people who have been doing this for years can make errors here.
  • Marker = Reward, it’s a contract, honor it.
  • In the future, if your dog does something great and you’re not going to feed him, use generic praise, and not a marker.
  • Some trainers have an entirely different set of markers for toy rewards vs food rewards. For this challenge stick with food.

If you have enjoyed this little game of developing a shared language between you and your dog using markers (technically marker cues/reinforcement cues), you might also like Shade Whitesel’s course at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. FE155 Crucial Concepts of Competition.



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