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Marker Training

ClickerHand

This method is 100% positive reward/reinforcement training - 'teaching' is a more appropriate word - with an additional teaching aid in the form of a marker signal. Commonly used marker signals are a clicker, a dolphin trainer's whistle, a word such as 'Yes!' or a thumbs-up sign - especially useful for deaf dogs.

The purpose of using a marker is to identify a desired behaviour instantly it happens. It explains to our dog that what s/he was doing then (at a split second in time rather than several moments later) was right and that as a result something good will shortly follow.

Once the muscle movements required for any behaviour have been established then, and only then, should a word be introduced to describe them. This descriptive label is not an 'order' or a traditional'command' - which implies 'do it or else!' It is an informative cue that, through pleasant associations, has become meaningful to the dog as to what specific behaviour is needed. The cue should be said quietly, firmly and clearly. If taught correctly the behaviour required will occur promptly and willingly. Unless the dog has simply not heard there will never be a need to repeat the word and certainly never a need  to use a loud voice with a threatening tone.

Many dog owners - from service dogs to competition dogs to the faithful family pooch - have found that using a 'marker' signal during the behaviour considerably reduces the amount of time they need to spend in basic training. Behaviours are learned faster and more permanently, so a greater amount of time is available to help a dog to perform at a level often thought impossible by many people.

'Geordie' was a German Shepherd cross from the Police Dog Squad in Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

His handler, Glen Wilson, changed over from traditional training to clicker training and wrote on his Website: "I learned a lot from the head marine mammal trainer at Sea World ... that there is no need for force or punishment in dog training. Once I had discovered Operant Conditioning and the clicker I threw the check chain out of the window and really picked up control and polish."

In 1999 'Geordie' beat every other traditionally trained police dog to easily win the biannual Australian/New Zealand Police Dog Championships held that year in Melbourne.

"Spinner" was a Golden Retriever from Perth, Western Australia. In dog obedience competitions he achieved multiple firsts in Novice, Open and Utility Dog classes. In 2000 he obtained his Obedience Champion title before he was three! He subsequently had an incredible eight perfect scores (including two on the same day) of 200/200, equivalent to an Olympic 10/10.

His owner, Sue Hogben wrote:

"I don't believe Spinner would have come nearly as far without clicker training. I think the positive approach (he has never had a collar correction or voice correction in his training) combined with the precision of knowing what the reward was for has built his confidence and attitude. He does not stress out at all on any exercises and if he makes a mistake, who cares! He is my 8th Utility Dog (the highest class in obedience competition) and the one who 'understands' his work better than the others who were all trained with some correction in the 'proofing' stage" (perfecting a behaviour in different locations and with many different distractions).