Unlocking Success: Harnessing the Power of Event Markers in Dog Training
What is an Event Marker?
Event markers are a signal for the dog that they have done something "correctly" and that they have a treat on the way. Some examples of this are clickers, verbal "yes" or verbal "good". You should give the event marker at the moment your dog performs the desired behaviour. For example, when your dog sits you would mark "yes" when your dog's bum hits the ground, then follow up with a treat.
Using an event marker allows us to reinforce more precise behaviour and communicate consistently with our dogs. It also buys us a few seconds so when we see a desirable behaviour we can mark it using our event marker, and then reach into our treat pouch or head to the treat jar to get our reinforcement. It's important that this word remains valuable for the dog; we can do that by giving our dog a treat every single time they hear the marker signal. This pairing process will make the event marker a conditioned reinforcer.
One popular misconception I've seen floating around is some folks using their marker word or clicker to get their dogs attention. It's important to recognize that an event marker is not a prompt or a cue for our dog to do something. This is better reserved for a recall or "watch me" behaviour.
The timing of your marker signal is also an important component. You want to make sure you can be accurate in marking the exact moment a desired behaviour occurs. For example, when cueing a "touch" or a hand target you want to make sure you are marking the moment your dog's nose touches your palm. If you used your event marker before or after the nose boop occured, then you would be marking the wrong behaviour.
If you haven't introduced a marker word to your training, I highly recommend giving it a go. You can start practicing the mechanics of timing and food delivery using easy behaviours (like "sit" and "down") and build upon the skill from there. Happy training!