The simple yet comprehensive guide on how to train a dog and puppy. In this article I’ll cover:
- How to Train A Dog & Puppy
- How To Train A Dog – What Most People Need To Know
- Common Dog Training Problems
- What Is A Marker
- How To Charge A Marker For Dog Training
- How To Use A Clicker To Train A Dog
- Other Types Of Dog Training Markers
- When And How To Use “Yes!” And “Good”
- How To Train A Dog – Reward Timing
- Additional Information – For the Future Dog Training Experts
- What Is A No Rewards Marker (NRM)
- Prosodic Of Speech: Advanced Dog Training
- Choosing Between A Clicker and a Verbal Marker (Tip: Use a Verbal Marker)
- Do You Have to Reinforce (Treat) After Every Marker/Click?
- Dog Marker/Clicker Training Experts
How to Train A Dog And Puppy
To successfully train any dog or puppy, you must first learn how to communicate with a dog. If there isn’t mutual communication, you and your dog won’t understand one another and you will both be frustrated.
Contrary to popular belief, when it comes to training, it doesn’t matter the dog’s age or breed. A puppy, adolescent, and senior dog or a Frenchie, Golden Retriever, American Pit Bull Terrier, German Shepherd, and mongrels all learn the same way.
The laws of learning don’t change with a dog’s age, breed, sex, or size and, although the type of training may vary for each condition, disorder or desired behavior (for example, aggression training, protection training, service dog training, therapy dog training, emotional support dog training, obedience training, etc.) how a dog learns and the methods of teaching are fundamentally the same.
ALL varieties and methods of dog training and behavior modification are essentially about communication. Hence, the more effective of a communicator you are, the better you’ll teach and the faster your dog will learn.
However, dog training is not only about verbal communication. Dogs are taking cues from verbal and non-verbal signals.
The best dog trainers understand this fact and, therefore, have effective and communicative body language, mechanics, timing, coordination, and speed. However, all of those factors are moot if you are not clear, concise, and consistent with your verbal and non-verbal communication.
Ironically, dogs learn first and foremost via gestural learning (i.e., through your body language) but since people tend to be first and foremost verbal learners/communicators I will focus on linguistics and inflection rather than body language.
Many trainers, ethologists and behaviorists have different communication styles and teaching methodologies. I’m not here to tell you they’re wrong. If your method of dog training works for you, is humane, compassionate, (no force, intimidation, vibration collar, choke chain, or prong collar) and effective, then keep doing it!
How To Train A Dog – What Most People Need To Know
(For reference, there are many types of markers. A click or clicker is one type of marker. However, throughout this article, I will predominantly use the term “marker” because It is a more accurate term.)
For most parents, this is what you need to know about how to train your dog and puppy to communicate with them effectively, quickly, and while having fun.
To train a dog quickly and to communicate with your dog, I suggest using the marker/conditioned reinforcers, “Yes!” and providing dogs with a positive “Keep Going Signal” (KGS), such as “Good.” That’s it!
Those are the ONLY two words you need to understand and master how to effectively and quickly train your dog or puppy.
However, it would also be helpful to know that dog trainers typically say a dog doesn’t “know” a cue until around 10,000 iterations of a behavior. This may sound like a lot, but in reality, it’s only about 27 iterations per day for a year.
I know most expert dog trainers and diligent parents will ask their dog for many more than 27 iterations per day, so if you are consistent, while raising criteria, and practicing with the three Ds of dog training (Duration, Distance, and Distraction) your dog will know several behaviors in short order.
The three Ds (also known as, the stimulus gradient): When practicing Duration, Distance, and Distractionpractice all behaviors first inside in a boring familiar environment such as your home and then eventually, gradually progress outside to more distracting environments.
First, start with Duration before moving on to Distance, and finally, the Ph.D. course is Distraction. Do not practice all Ds at once or mix them together just yet. Instead, practice each D individually until your dog is fluent in each one respectively.
You can move on to the next D only after your dog is getting each individual D cue correct 8 out of 10 times.
Lastly, because dogs (and children) will first and foremost respond to your body language (gestural cues) before your verbal cue, don’t use your verbal cue until your dog is performing your gestural cue correctly 8 out of 10 times.
Before we dig in about how to train a dog and/or puppy, here are a few dog training tips to help you along the way.
Pro Dog Training Tips:
- When you and your dog are in the beginning stages of learning, make sure that you remain clear, concise, and consistent with your body language and verbal cues.
- If more than one person is training your dog make sure that you are all behaving and speaking as similarly as possible. The reason for mimicking one another and being as clear as possible is that dogs do not generalize well.
Dogs are masters at nuances and subtleties, but if you switch from asking your dog to sit on your rug in your living room to sit on your tile floor in the kitchen, all bets are off because, to your dog, these are different behaviors.
- Words can easily confuse dogs especially if the cues are not generalized across so many dialects, proses, and people in so many ways and environments. Practicing in so many ways in so many environments is called proofing a dog.
- Keep dog training sessions short and sweet. Around 5-10 minutes per session whether obedience training in Dog Boot Camp or behavior modification via desensitization and counterconditioning (D/CC).
- Most of the time, your dog is not being stubborn if they don’t respond to your requests, they just don’t understand what you’re asking (or they’re distracted).
- With every additional successful iteration, raise the criteria of your dog’s behavior and training gradually and in small slices by building-in behavioral duration with the Keep Going Signal, (KGS), “Good.” Pronouncing the cue Good as such, “Gooooood” in a low tone, calmly and lovingly. Your voice and prose matter a lot when dog training! More on that below.
- Remember not to use food as a bribe when dog training. Don’t bribe your dog and show them the food rewards when you’re asking your dog for a behavior or they will quickly only respond when you have food in your hands.
Common Dog Training Problems
Here are what many parents, dog trainers, and behaviorists do wrong or get confused with when using markers and KGS’s.
- Bribing a dog. Make sure to hide your treat hand (and treat pouch) behind your back with appropriate-sized and, textured dog training treats.
- Moving your treat hand too soon. Don’t move your treat hand until half a second AFTER you say your marker, “Yes!”
- Not being aware of your body language and moving your treat hand at the same time as you say “Yes!.” Don’t move at the same time as when you say the marker.
- Do not wait more than 1-second after you say “Yes!” to deliver the treat.
- Poor timing, delivery and coordination.
- Waiting for your dog to do something when charging the marker while practicing classical conditioning exercises. Charging the mark is not contingent upon your dog’s behavior. He doesn’t have to look at you, sit, down, or anything. Don’t even call his name. Just say “Yes!,” then toss a treat. The only criteria is that your dog finishes chewing and swallowing before repeating the process.
- Using inappropriate sized, textured and value treats. Use small, soft, high-value training treats.
- Try to fade the treats. Your dog requires food rewards like you require money for going to work.
- Starting a variable rate of reinforcement too soon. Instead, use a continuous reinforcement schedule (give your dog a treat every time after you click/mark.)
- Commanding a dog rather than asking a dog. We no longer use the label “Command” as it doesn’t accurately reflect the dialogue you are having with your dog nor recognize your dog’s autonomy. We use the word “cue” instead and we ask a dog (politely) to do something – we don’t demand it.
What Is A Marker
Speaking with a different species requires a different type of communication. Dogs and humans speak different languages and we have to learn how to communicate together.
When we connect with companion animals we adapt our semiotics, and voice to match a dog’s abilities to learn and understand.
We know canines learn most efficiently via associative learning with single-syllable words and easy-to-understand gestures.
As touched on earlier with the use of “Yes!” and “Good,” a marker is any sound or signal used to communicate with a dog. It is also referred to as a mark then reward (MR) system and also as a click then treat (CT) system by some dog trainers and animal behaviorists. However, it is typically interchanged with and most commonly known as dog clicker training.
A marker system is a simple and effective, yet nuanced language to communicate with your dog.
Most dog trainers and behaviorists worldwide have been using marker training since the days of Skinner, Pavlov, and Thorndike.
This MR system is the basis of communication with a dog.
Markers communicate to a dog what, where, how, and when you are asking them to perform a behavior. They also tell a dog precisely when and if they will get reinforcement or punishment (no treats, praise, pets, eye contact, etc.) immediately after and contingent upon their behavior (or lack of behavior).
A Marker Is A Contract With Your Dog
A marker is a contract with your dog that we don’t want to break or weaken. However, when training, sometimes we make mistakes.
Therefore, when (not if) you make a mistake and say, “Yes!”, by accident, (for example, if we say “Yes!” before the dog sits or when the dog performs a different behavior other than what we asked, etc.) give your dog some type of lower-level reinforcement (perhaps kibble rather than a piece of chicken).
We still have to reward the dog when we mess up so we don’t break that contract. When we mess up and say “Yes!” and don’t give the dog a reward we fail to uphold our end of the contract and reduce the likelihood that our dog will respond the next time.
Mess up once and it’s not the end of the world. But do it a few times and the contract is broken.
Once the contract is broken, your dog will become unpredictable and unreliable.
How To Charge A Marker For Dog Training
Because dogs are associative learners, we must immediately (in about ½ of a second) associate the marker, “Yes!” with a reward (high-value food). This is called charging the marker.
In order to charge the marker with your dog (i.e., make the marker mean something to your dog) follow these steps.
Remember these are classical/respondent conditioning steps and are NOT contingent upon any behavior. In other words, don’t ask your dog to do anything. In fact, try not saying anything other than the word “Yes!” and follow the instructions below.
- Go to the most familiar and boring room in your home. This room should be free of distractions, other people, pets, etc. (put away any toys, food, or other distractions on the ground, close the windows, shades, doors, and turn off the music, TV, etc.)
- Then when it’s just you and your dog, say “Yes!” excitedly like you just won the lottery.
- Immediately (1/2 a second later) toss your dog a properly sized, best dog training treat.
- Wait until your dog finishes their treat.
- Rinse and repeat for about 10 iterations. Then let each person that will train with your dog, practice the exact same procedure (with or without you in the room) so that your dog gets familiar with everyone’s training voice.
- You know your dog “gets it” (when your dog begins to associate the marker/cue “Yes!” with a reinforcement). In other words, your marker is charged after you say “Yes!” and your dog immediately looks at you or around the room for a treat.
This is textbook classical/respondent conditioning.
Beginning trainers and parents sometimes forget to charge the marker ”Yes!” before using it.
Although it is beneficial and clearer to start the conversation with your dog or puppy by charging the marker before you begin dog training, forgetting to charge the marker is not the end of the world.
If you simply say “Yes!” immediately after your dog performs the desired behavior he will likely end up understanding you eventually.
How To Use A Clicker To Train A Dog
Using a marker like a clicker when training your dog is easy.
For example, ask your dog to Sit. As soon as their bum hits the floor, immediately say the marker, “Yes!”, then ½ a second later give them a high-value primary reinforcer (food). Rinse and repeat.
The reward/reinforcement has to be delivered in less than one second following the marker, (but not at the exact same time) to maintain the strength of the behavior-reward association.
You can use a marker communication (MR) system with any dog (cat, horse, or any non-human animal).
As you grow in your understanding, as many dog trainers do, you will begin to use your body language more than your voice to communicate cues and signals to your dog (or horse, remember the genius Clever Hans) effectively.
Other Types Of Dog Training Markers
Although “Yes!” and a clicker are the most commonly used markers when dog training, there is another useful one as you begin to expand your dog training skills.
For example, I use the marker “OK!” just as I use the marker “Yes!.” However when I use “OK!,” I do not give a food reinforcement to a dog. I use “OK” as a marker strictly when I will be providing a NON-FOOD reward such as a contextual, environmental, or life reward.
For example, before my dog comes on the bed or the couch, I will ask my dog to sit and look at me. After he does, I say “OK!.” In this case, the reward is coming onto the couch for pets or cuddles and not food.
Another example, when I am training my dog with toys, when he drops the tug toy or sits on cue, I will say “OK!” And then throw the ball for him, or continue to play tug, etc.
When And How To Use “Yes!” And “Good”
Many positive reinforcement Certified Dog Trainers in Los Angeles and Board Certified Veterinarian Behaviorists use the marker “Yes!” as a signal to a dog that a reward is immediately coming contingent upon a correct behavior.
However, a marker can be any short, pithy one-syllable word that you like.
I use the marker “Yes!” to mark new behaviors, and since dogs don’t generalize well, when in new environments. “Yes!,” also has several other meanings to a dog. “Yes!” also releases a dog to get the reinforcement, and therefore also acts as an “all done” signal when you’re finished asking your dog to do stuff (a single behavior or a sequence or chain of behaviors). Regardless of how I use the marker “Yes!” I always provide a food reward directly after.
On the other hand, we use the marker/cue/Keep Going Signal (KGS), “Good” for longer duration behaviors.
“Good” on the other hand, does not serve as a release or all done signal. It means just the opposite, keep on going and don’t stop.
It is used when you want to let your dog know that you are not done asking him to do stuff and to encourage and reinforce him to keep on doing whatever it is that you just asked him to do.
You will eventually use the KGS “Good” for most behaviors after you refine your dog training skills and you start more advanced levels of obedience or service dog training.
After your dog becomes better trained and proofed/fluent in many environments your dog (and you) will become more proficient at training behaviors and you won’t be simply asking for a Sit and immediately saying “Yes!”
As you raise the criteria for each iteration, you will be asking for sequences of behaviors and longer-duration behaviors. You will also transition from a continuous rate of reinforcement to a variable rate of reinforcement as your dog becomes more proficient and trained.
Here is an example if you want to train your dog to respond to their name. Practice saying your dog’s name in a friendly, loving, high-pitched voice, waiting a few seconds between repetitions, and then when he looks at your eyes, immediately mark that with a vocalized, excited, “Yes!” and then immediately (1/2 second after the marker “Yes!”) provide positive reinforcement (a high-value food reward).
The KGS acts as a signpost to let your dog know he is on the right track. KGS’s function the same for us. For example, if you were driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco, it’s reinforcing to see signs on the road that you are heading the correct way. Those are KGS’s.
Pro Dog Training Tips:
- You can treat/reward a dog while you are using the KGS “Good” to continue a sequence of behaviors or use a variable reinforcement schedule for dogs that you have a conditioned history of training with. Do this by simply rewarding your dog at appropriate times by saying “Gooooood” with the option of giving them treats as you encourage your dog.
- Don’t use the KGS, “Good” as a release or as an end-of-session (behavior or sequence of behaviors) signal instead of “Yes!” or you will confuse your dog and your dog will become less predictable. When we are not clear, our dog will get frustrated and lose interest and become unresponsive just as we would if someone was speaking to us in an unknown language.
In other words, don’t change the meaning of your communication or the rules of the game midway through training.
- If you’re using a KGS such as “Good,” you must have a different release cue (such as the marker “Yes!,” or a clicker) that indicates when your dog will be getting (or anticipating) a reward and has finished a behavior or sequence of behaviors (i.e., your dog gets a break and is temporarily not training for the moment).
- When I say “Yes!” I also sometimes flash my hands wide open as a signal to my dog that we are done training for now.
- You can space KGS’s further apart (such as saying, “Good” every 5-10 seconds) as long as you do so skillfully and in small graduated steps/slices in successive approximations so the dog can build up their confidence and trust that they are on the right path and to keep on going.
How To Train A Dog – Reward Timing
A marker must be contingent upon the desired behavior. As mentioned, the reward must not come at the same time as the marker, but should be delivered less than one second after the marker. A temporal rule of ½ second is a good guide.
If you deliver the treat/reward at the same time as the cue, there is no association, conditioning, or contingent learning happening. In other words, don’t move your hand holding the treat from behind your back until ½ a second after you say “Yes!.”
On the other hand, if you deliver the reinforcement too late (20 seconds later while we go to the kitchen cupboard search for the treat bag, struggle to open it and then break a treat in half, etc.), the strength of the reinforcer declines in a direct linear fashion to the time it takes you to get the treat into your dog’s mouth.
Although the marker serves as a bridge reinforcer/stimulus to the reward, buying us some time to get a dog a treat, the reward still has to be timely to be most effective.
This is why you must have treats on your body or immediately available and ready to give to your dog throughout the day so you can train your dog anytime and anywhere you want. You don’t want to miss an opportunity to capture a behavior your dog offers you freely on their own volition.
Pro Dog Training Tip:
- When you are using a marker (i.e., a bridging stimulus, bridge cue or a secondary reinforcer) such as “Yes!” as described above, it is not functioning as THE reward in and of itself.
Although saying “Yes!” or “OK!” often is rewarding to the dog in the anticipation of receiving the reward, the marker is not THE reward. A high-value piece of food is. (We’ll stick with food treats/primary reinforcers as the rewards in this article and save environmental and life rewards for another article)
The “Yes!” or “OK!” is effective only because it has been positively associated and conditioned with a highly valuable reward (such as a high-value food treat). If you remove the reward and simply rely on the marker “Yes!” as the reward, your dog will stop responding and get confused.
That’s all you need to teach a dog and puppy training!
However, if you want to become a master dog trainer, be the best dog trainer you can be, and want to geek out on the science of dog training and go into details and science of communication and semiotics between how a dog and a person communicate, along with the various ways to use markers, reinforcers, conditioned reinforcers, and your body language to communicate more effectively with your dog, keep on reading.
Also, if you are struggling with an advanced obedience training chain, with successive approximations (shaping a dog’s behavior), or you’re a dog trainer or behaviorist struggling to explore the nuances and science behind the mark > reward system, and how to use your voice as an effective tool for dog training, No Reward Markers (NRM), and common dog training mistakes, the rest of this article might elucidate some gaps in your training methods.
Additional Information – For the Future Dog Training Experts
What Is A No Rewards Marker (NRM)
A No Rewards Marker (NRM) is a sound/word (or silence, i.e., the absence of reinforcement) that signals to the dog that he didn’t get it right. Dogs are binary learners in the sense that what they are doing is either right or wrong (will or will not earn them reinforcement).
A NRM is a marker (voice, gesture, signal or lack thereof) that indicates your dog is on the wrong path and will not be receiving a reward for their efforts. Many parents (overuse) the NRM “No.”
But also the absence of a conditioned reinforcer (Yes! or Good) signals to the dog that whatever they’re doing won’t earn them reinforcement. Hence a dog tries something different to get reinforcement.
If a dog isn’t getting rewarded or cued to understand and believe there is a payoff/reward coming soon, they will stop performing the behavior (extinction) and try something different. This consequently is why using a KGS to maintain a cue/behavior and reward a dog is so important.
There are many types of NRM. Some people use gestural cues and some use verbal NRMs lovingly and kindly such as:
- Maybe next time
- Too bad
- So sad
Or some other word to indicate to a dog that they didn’t get it right that time.
While other trainers use gestural NRMs such as:
- Shaking your head no
- Raising your hands in the air
- Turning your attention away from the dog
- Snapping your fingers
- Shrugging your shoulders
However, you can alternatively opt not to use any KGS/marker since the absence of them will communicate to a dog that something is not right and they will attempt other behaviors instead that will earn him rewards.
We want a dog to keep trying and experimenting until they get it right -like a scientist.
This is one of the many reasons why we don’t harshly punish a dog for the fruits of their efforts. Just as we don’t punish a scientist for the outcomes of their experiments. If we did, a scientist and/or a dog will quickly realize it is not safe to experiment or try anything new.
We want a dog to think and to experiment. We want to encourage exploration, thinking, and learning.
I prefaced the word punish above with the modifier, “harshly” because some may argue that the absence of a reward is a punishment in a Skinner operant context, however, we will leave that discussion for another day.
The point is that you may say something like, “oh-well,” (or any of the suggestions above) softly, sweetly, and lovingly to your dog or you could also opt to just look away or ignore your dog for a few seconds. Either is fine and will accomplish the same NRM goal.
Here are some real-life examples of how NRM’s play a part in our life.
I remember NRM and KGS’s and how they interplay with one another when I’m hiking on a long multi-mile hike on a trail that I’ve never hiked before and there’s a trail marker or sign missing.
It’s getting late, cold, I’m low on water, and a storm is brewing. Do I keep pushing forward into the unknown or do I double back to where I know there is food, water, and shelter? I start to doubt my path is correct.
But what changes if I suddenly stumble across a trail marker that confirms the trail, distance, destination, food, shelter and water are just ahead. I will then forge ahead knowing I’ll survive and get rewarded for my efforts.
However, if that trail marker was missing for too long a period, it will also throw off a dog’s learning and make them question or stop what they are doing or at least have doubts or get frustrated. That’s why we use the KGS, “Good.”
It lets the dog know that they are on the correct path and to keep on going.
Pro Dog Training Tip:
- It’s OK to let a dog know that what they are doing is not what we were looking for and to please try again. Don’t get frustrated and scold, yell, punish, hit or intimidate a dog. That is not humane, compassionate, or anything you ever want to do.
Prosodic Of Speech: Advanced Dog Training
As mentioned before, dogs are first and foremost taking cues from your body language and not sounds. I would also say that dogs are taking into consideration your words less than the way you say and pronounce the word.
For example, analyze the pitch, rhythm, tone, intonation, inflection, energy, volume, etc. of the way your voice sounds when you say a cue.
Inflection is important because a long, slow, and low pitch sounding word such as “goooooood” will inhibit a dog’s motion and therefore be used for co-regulation and for practicing behaviors such as Stay or relaxation protocols for dogs with separation anxiety, general dog anxiety and also for easily aroused dogs in dysregulated states.
We change our voice to match the type of training we are asking our dog to perform.
Another example is when practicing Dr. Karen Overall’s relaxation protocols, or when working with behavior, and emotional problems such as dog anxiety, separation anxiety, station training, or when working with a dog that is easily aroused and that struggles to settle down.
All beginner and advanced obedience training can benefit from being aware and mindful of, and practicing, modulating your voice as a dog training tool.
Conversely, a short high-pitched sound such as a kissing or clicking sound will elicit motion and motor skills that persuade a dog to move quickly and to approach the sound. Short, higher pitches disinhibit motion.
In a dog training context, we would use high-pitched short clicks or kissing sounds for training a dog’s strong recall or when trying to move along or motivate an English Bull Dog or non-energetic/lazy dog that doesn’t like to walk or exercise as much.
Remember, it’s not just what you’re saying but how you’re saying it.
This is why you can casually say the word “yes” on the phone with a friend but when you say, “YES!” very excitedly (like you just cured cancer), your dog can differentiate between the meanings in a dog training and behavior modification context.
Context and audition have very different meanings depending on the environment, even if you are using the same word.
Your voice is an important tool for dog training and plays a part in a dog’s behavior. You can speed up your dog’s learning process with the skilled use of your voice. Using your voice effectively can make you a great dog trainer. Conversely, using your voice ineffectively can slow down a dog’s learning process or, worse, confuse a dog completely, making you an average or poor dog trainer and exacerbating a dog’s maladaptive behaviors.
Choosing Between A Clicker and a Verbal Marker (Tip: Use a Verbal Marker)
Both a verbal markers and a click from a clicker are conditioned reinforcers that are followed by a primary reinforcer food.
A very common question dog trainers will ask me is, “Which is more effective or “better” to use, a clicker for training or a word such as “Yes!?”
Some Veterinarian Behaviorists, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists, and Trainers have preferences when dog training.
The great debate of whether a dog learns quicker with a clicker or a verbal marker has evidence on both sides of the argument. Regardless, if you want your dog to reliably respond to your marker, you must contingently and timely reward your dog.
The bridging stimulus must be a reliable signal predicting the primary reinforcement. If that relationship gets weekend or becomes unreliable the animal’s behavior will also become weekend and unreliable.
As always, a conditioned reinforcer should predict the unconditioned reinforcer.
So we don’t confuse a dog and communicate poorly, we also don’t use multiple marks/clicks without treating a dog after each iteration. The sloppier we use a clicker or marker the more confused and frustrated a dog becomes. Which again, manifests as unreliable dog behavior and a communication breakdown.
In theory, it doesn’t matter whether you use a clicker or a verbal marker. From my perspective, however, it is vital to have both hands free to train, practice behavior modification protocols, hold a leash, treat a dog, and signal to my dog what it is I want them to do next.
Because of this, the choice is a no-brainer. Toss the clicker in the garbage and use a verbal marker such as “Yes!”
Even if clicker training taught a dog slightly faster or more efficiently (which it doesn’t), I would still use a verbal marker because losing 50% of my hands/body language cues is not a safe or practical option.
If you are a dog trainer or behaviorist and have a special need for a clicker, I’m sure you have given careful consideration to the dog’s behavior, safety, and your environment to make it work for you. But the average pet parent, dog trainer, and behaviorist would be much better suited to use a word as a marker instead of a device that you need to hold in your hand and have with you at all times.
This might be counterintuitive to some trainers because many beginning trainers and even advanced trainers are taught to use clickers during dog clicker training camps and dog training schools. And those camps and schools can be very helpful to refine an animal trainer and behaviorist’s skills, timing, speed, and mechanics.
However, just like ladder crossover stepping drills and yoga can be helpful to a football player, you won’t ever see a football player doing the downward dog on the field.
Some people also decide to use a dog whistle as a marker and that is OK too and has advantages in certain contexts such as herding, long-distance training, and any situation where you don’t want to disturb other people around you. However, it might disturb other animals (such as your cats or neighbors’ pets) that can hear and be offended by a dog whistle’s high frequency.
Do You Have to Reinforce (Treat) After Every Marker/Click?
At the beginning of training, a continuous reinforcement schedule should be maintained. In other words, reinforce/reward/treat after every click/marker.
However after your dog has some training under his tail, you may begin to use other reinforcement schedules such as a variable reinforcement schedule to maintain the strength of the better-known behavior. This is very similar to why people go to Las Vegas to pull the slot machine lever and keep coming back for more.
However, if you (or anyone) never got a reinforcement (a payout or jackpot) from pulling the lever, would you keep trying? Most people would not if they knew the chances of being reinforced were so low or nonexistent.
If a dog knew he would never again be reinforced for a behavior, that behavior would be on an extinction schedule.
The answer of how often to reward a dog after a marker varies with each individual. There are no black and white set rules for unique individuals. All dogs learn and are motivated at different rates.
You must see how fast your dog is learning and alter your training reinforcement schedule based on the learner.
For a simple answer, I would say it is wise to reinforce after every click/marker until you understand your dog and your training gets better.
Parents and trainers will also ask, “How do I train my dog without food or treats?”
Consider this alternate analogy, if your boss came to you and said how can I get you to come to work without paying you anything?
Would you continue to go to work every day without getting paid? Neither will your dog.
If you stop providing a continuous rate of reinforcement schedule of treats to an untrained or beginner puppy, the dogs seeking behavior, motivation and understanding will dissipate in direct correlation to when the reliability of the marker predicting the reward dissipates.
Keep rewarding your dog with food just as your boss keeps paying you for your performance and work.
Dog Marker/Clicker Training Experts
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