Positive Reinforcement Training and using a Marker

Positive reinforcement training is based in science. I won’t get into too much technical information here, however I will start off by identifying what I mean by positive reinforcement.

Positive means something is “added” to the situation.

A reinforcer is ANYTHING that will build or maintain a behavior. In a training environment common reinforcers are things like tasty treats or a chance to play with a toy.

The timing of when the reinforcer is added to the situation matters a great deal. Especially with puppies who move VERY quickly. If your timing is late you may end up reinforcing the wrong behavior. This is why many positive reinforcement trainers use a “marker”. A marker is a conditioned signal that tells the dog/puppy that they just did something right and that a treat will promptly follow. A couple popular markers are:

• A verbal cue, like the word “Yes”

• A clicker (a little metal box that makes a click sound when you press it with your thumb)

To condition the marker you just pair it with a reinforcer like food. Let’s use the “Yes” word for our example. You would take out 5 tasty treats to start (you might want to hold them behind your back so the puppy doesn’t just stare at your hand). Your puppy does not have to do anything except eat for this exercise. You will say the word “Yes” in a cheerful upbeat voice and promptly follow it by delivering a treat to your puppy’s mouth. You repeat this 5x in short succession. Your puppy’s probably already catching on to this new fun game.

Before each training session you should power up your “Yes” with the 5 treat exercise as described above so your puppy’s primed for learning. One thing to keep in mind, do NOT use the word “Yes” if you don’t have any food. It will begin to lose it’s power. Also, never just say “Yes”  to get your dog’s attention, remember the “Yes” means “you just did something good” and that might not be the case.

Now that you have a powerful marker to help you communicate with your puppy you can start training new behaviors. Markers can help with house training, teaching basic commands like sit & down and so much more.

More next time 🙂


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