Using Marker Cues

A loose goal I set for myself this year was to try to become more consistent with marker cues.  I was first introduced to the idea that markers, such as the clicker, are actual cues to the dog to do a behavior several years ago.

At first it's a weird concept.  Doesn't the marker just tell the dog the instant they earned a reward?  Yes!  But it also can be used to tell them so much more info such as exactly where to go to get that reward, or even what type of reward they earned.  When you think about the fact that one of the most powerful pieces in training is reward placement, this makes a ton of sense.  No matter how great your timing is, you can really struggle to train a behavior if your reward placement doesn't support it.

I believe I first heard of different marker cues through Fanny Gott a long time ago.  I remember being fascinated by the idea of having one marker cue tell the dog to turn around and grab a toy that was set behind them vs another marker cue tell the dog to come get a cookie in their hand, etc.  And then I promptly set that idea aside.  

Then a few years after that I was reintroduced again through Shade Whitesel.  Shade is like the Queen of Marker Cues and really lays out a great argument for how having multiple markers helps to reduce confusion in your training and reduces frustration when switching from food to toys and back again.  

I got excited again, but then it faded away.  It was kinda the same thing that I've done with other great ideas.  Recognize it's brilliance, think of it as excellent training, and then go eh it's hard to change.  I'm better at training the dogs than trying to train myself.  

Somehow at that point, I discovered I did indeed have different marker cues even if I wasn't super consistent and didn't think about it as such.  I already had 
- "yes" means come to my hand for a cookie
- "gooood" meaning wait there while I bring the cookie to you
- "get it"  meaning chase after the cookie, or the toy,  or grab the toy on the ground.  or their formal retrieve cue... :(
- "behind" used in heeling to tell them to duck behind me and get a cookie at my right leg.

But as I said, consistency just wasn't there.  I should technically always use "gooood" when I walked up to reward the dog at their go out spot instead of saying "yes."  But the dogs figured it out, they're amazing.

The problems with my "get it" cue didn't take a genius to figure out.

And even my "yes" cue should have been spot on right? But I abuse that one too by saying it as praise sometimes and not delivering a reward.

I certainly didn't have different markers for food vs toy reward.  

But as time progressed I found myself instructing others just how useful it would be to have at least a room service cue (Thanks Hannah Brannigan for that great term for waiting there while the reward comes!).  And then as I saw some teams struggle with their dog wanting to run off to their reward at a distance when they just praised the dog, I started recommending really training a remote reward cue too.  Clarity.  
Random dog picture.

So this year I tried to tackle myself.  I still have a long way to go towards consistency, but I'm at least more conscious of my cues.  I sat down and wrote out what I want their meanings to be.  I haven't yet tackled food vs toy, but I'm at least making the effort right?!
- "yes" = reward from hand
-"goood" = wait there for cookie to be brought to your mouth
- "get it" = chase reward tossed
" cookies" = send to reward bowl on the ground
- "behind"= duck behind me and get a reward at my right leg (whew, didn't have to change anything!)
- "Jackpot"= Sit while I get the reward that's located off my body and usually out of the working area.

This has also meant changing my formal retrieve cue.  Zumi's retrieve is no longer "Get it" but is now "Fetch."  

Linda Boggs  – ( May 24, 2018 at 5:28 PM )  

Thanks for posting this. Any refinements since you put it up? I'm struggling with the same thing (mainly a hard to train human). Once I was introduced to the multiple marker concept I am seeing so many times when it would add a ton of clarity to my training, but its kind of an all or nothing thing so I'm doing a bit more research before I dive in.

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