When it comes to dog training, there’s a lot to be said for watching. And waiting. And quietness. I’ve been doing a lot of the former, tagging along with Ed and Anthony as they go about their training sessions. And the main thing I’ve gleaned? Is the importance of waiting, and silence. Giving the dog time to process the information you’ve given them, make a decision and then act upon it. They learn to do the ‘right’ thing by working out what you want them to do, doing it, and then being rewarded.
When I walk ten dogs at a time in hundreds of acres of open forestland, I hardly ever call them. I’ve never really really wondered why, but having learnt the theory from Ed and Anthony I’m realising that I’ve always naturally thought it was their job to follow me, not mine to follow them. To walk that many unfamiliar dogs off lead at once, they have to want to stay with you, you can’t force them! So I’ve always made sure they take responsibility for staying with me – ie it’s their job to know where I am and mine is simply to be the place/person that they want to be with. (With an addendum, for worried owners, that I do know it IS my job and am constantly checking and rechecking – but the dogs don’t know that!)
It’s the same kind of thing that Ed and Anthony do all the time. They make their instructions clear; they wait for the dog to work out what they’re being asked to do; they reward the good behaviour, the dog learns.
Ed’s a big proponent of using a Marker to help teach the dogs this idea that it’s up to them to work out what’s expected, and then to do it. He’s put pen to paper on the subject …
As we often bang on about, good owner-dog-owner communication makes for happy relationships, happy dogs and happy owners. And marker training is a brilliant tool for enabling that good communication. Effective marker work results in positive experiences for the dog and allows him to work out for himself what are desirable and what are undesirable behaviours. By giving him that responsibility, not only will the results be more permanent and entrenched but he will also be more enthusiastic about them, and a happier dog. And you, the empowered owner, will have a new toolkit to set about experimenting what else you can “speak” to your dog about. Dancing dogs, performing pooches? Britain’s Got Talent, prepare yourself!
To start of Marker Training, we have to set some rules:
Treats The treats used need to be something that the dog desires and will want to work for. Ideally avoid anything too chewy and go for something that’s good to taste but quick to swallow. And easy to carry! Biscuits from their own rations can work well, if they’re tempting enough for the dog. (Most will be)
Marker The mark you use can be any kind of distinctive noise that will notify that a treat will follow. The mark could even be a spoken word. Something short, sharp and noticeable e.g ‘Yes’, ‘OK’ or ‘Good’. This works well when only one person is doing the training but can become confusing if multiple people are doing any kind of training with the dog as the mark will sound different from different people. An easier option is a clicker. It is a constant sound and will always click the same way no matter how you press it. e.g http://amzn.eu/9NLV6hq
Attributes you (the trainer) need Patience is one of the important attributes to bring to any dog training. If at any point you find yourself getting stressed or losing your temper then it’s time to stop and take a break. Similarly if your dog is just not listening to you, you’ll need to change your behaviour: remove distractions, look (in a calm manner) to how you can make the environment a learning one. Consistency is essential to allow your dog to learn in a quick manner. Inconsistency can be something simple as multiple people giving different words of command for the same result. It will confuse your dog and frustrate all of you. Timing must be a constant and links closely with consistency. Wait too long to mark or deliver a treat and your dog will not be able to associate the process and reward.
Charging Before you start your training you will need to let your dog know that when there is a marker, be it a click or word, that there will be a reward or treat that will closely follow. This can be taught by ‘Charging’ the marker. 1. Stand or sit in a room with minimal distraction and allow your dog to know you have a small amount of treats in your hand. At this point we are not interacting with eye contact or voice. Purely to display that when there is a marker the treat will follow. 2. Keep repeating this process multiple times and for periods of up to 1 minute. Do not delay between marker and treat delivery. Remember, no other interaction (ie Don’t ask them to sit before starting) 3. Repeat this process for a couple of days. (Remember to take into account how much treat training you are doing and balance their daily food intake accordingly. Maybe use dog biscuits from the dog’s own meal ration)
First Stage (Something simple) One of the simplest things to start training with the marker is ‘Sit’. Even if, especially if, your dog already knows this command. You are looking for your dog to understand the game of markers. Timing is essential in the delivery of the marker and the treat. Missed timings can confuse your dog and he will not make that vital association between command, action and reward.
(If your dog already knows sit)
1. Prepare the marker and treats
2. Ask the dog to ‘Sit’
3. As soon as your dog sits then ‘mark’ and treat (Remember to not only give one treat every time your dog correctly sits. If you only give one mark and treat, your dog will come to expect to receive only one treat and will lose concentration. Vary the amount of treats received but mark before each delivery of a treat.)
4. Repeat this process in different locations and with varying distractions
(If your dog doesn’t know the sit)
1. Prepare the marker and treats
2. Hold a few treats in your hand close enough so your dog can smell them but don’t allow them to get them. (DO NOT USE THE COMMAND SIT YET)
3. Slowly raising your hand above your dogs head will naturally make them arch back. It may not work first time but remember not to get frustrated and try it slightly differently.
4. Even if your dog moves its rear end toward the ground but doesn’t quite place it on the ground you can still mark and treat. This is called ‘Shaping’. This process is molding in to the final sit position and should be repeated and rewarded further the rear end goes to the floor.
5. Eventually your dog will place their rear end on the floor and this is to be rewarded. Try to mark and reward multiple times as this can help reinforce the bahaviour. (STILL NOT SAYING THE COMMAND SIT YET)
6. Repeat this process until you can just hold treats in your hand and your dog will automatically sit without thinking. This is when you know your dog is understanding the process. Remember to mark and reward.
7. Now we need to combine the command ‘Sit’ with the process. Set yourself up to win and as soon as your dog puts its rear end on the floor say ‘Sit’ then mark and reward. There should be no delay between the command the mark and the reward. Remember to mark and reward multiple times varying amount each time.
8. Again repeat this process. Practice this and remember repetition, consistency and patience are key. If there is a delay between the command and your dog sitting down do not continually repeat the command until they sit. If you keep saying the word of command it can become a learned behaviour to only sit on the fifth or sixth time of saying it. Only say it once and be patient in the reaction. If marked and rewarded correctly then the time between command and carrying it out will get shorter through repetition.
Overall remember to have fun and enjoy the process of training your dog. If you need further help then we are always here to help.