A marker (or event marker) is a signal that marks the exact behaviour you would like to reinforce.
It needs to be conditioned by pairing the marker with a primary reinforcer (like food!) so the learner hears/sees the marker and instantly thinks “food”. This means the marker has become a conditioned reinforcer or a secondary reinforcer.
Having a marker helps bridge the time you have between identifying the behaviour we want to reinforce and the delivery of the reinforcement.
They can come in all types of forms;
Noises like clickers, a sound like a mouth click, or a whistle.
Upbeat words like Bravo, Super, Yes (or as my dude likes to use for tricks with Kitsune, BOOM!)
They can also be visual like a thumbs up or a flash of a light for deaf dogs.
Some are sneaky and you may not know what they are, but your dog does. Reaching into your pocket, a crinkled treat bag, a deep inhale.
Or we can be more specific, marking a behaviour while giving information about how the reinforcer will be delivered. Tossed or placed, food or a toy, from you or from an external source.
Markers are a fantastic way to clearly communicate and capture specific behaviours.
To get started grab a handful of 5-10 treats, pick a quite location where your dog is not distracted and simply say your chosen marker, ‘YES’, and deliver food to your dog.
It does not matter what they are doing, we are simply pairing, ‘Yes’ = Treat, ‘Yes’ = Treat.
For a test run wait until your dog is not focused on you, but not involved in anything too exciting, mark, ‘Yes’, they should whip around to see where their food is!, Treat. This is when you know the conditioning is starting to work.
What do you use for a marker? Do you use several?
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