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."  


Trials, Training, and More Dogs

I've not been so great at updating the blog lately!  Let's give a quick recap of things I've been working on this month.

Zumi's been working hard at learning to give me eye contact and not start the vulture before being sent on retrieves.

She also did an AKC rally trial last weekend, her first two times in advanced.  I was eager to see if she would handle the environment of AKC better than her last trial all the way back in October.  The great news is that I didn't see any of the small stress signs I saw back then!  Her run on Saturday was everything I could hope for.  She did struggle with doing the halt-call front exercise but that was not a surprise to me.  While Zumi does have a beautiful pivot to front, I've noticed that lately she's been doubting the verbal cue and just twitching instead.

On Sunday's run her focus entering the ring and even ignoring a delightfully chatty judge was excellent!  However, she seemed to think that the "fast" sign meant that we were suddenly doing agility and she should look for something to send to.  I called Zumi back as she started to take off, but as soon as she returned the lightbulb went off in her little head and she proudly went forward again to do an "out" around a sign.  Other than her creativity, I was happy with her focus and clearly confident performance.

I hope to enter another AKC rally trial next month as a stepping stone to getting her ready for AKC obedience.  Our club's trial is in October and I'm debating about entering Zumi in novice obedience then, or just continuing our rally route for a few more trials.

Vito has been working on his fronts with a retrieve item.  Something that's never been 100% and has steadily declined over the years.  I cringe as he always comes in close and straight and then right as he begins a sit he suddenly decides to shuffle back a half step.  I  have no idea why.  He never does that without an item in his mouth of course.

I'm trying an experiment with him involving a chin rest.  It would be an easier experiment if the way I teach their retrieves didn't involve an automatic drop into a held out hand as an informal delivery option...  But we are making progress.  Mainly he needs to learn how to target and then do a tucked sit vs the rock back shuffle.

And this week we got a visitor!  Nala is an 8 month old Labrador puppy!  Another service dog in training of course.  She needed an evaluation and some training as she had really been struggling with life behind bars.  Nala was in our prison program, but it was determined not to be a good fit for her.

So welcome Nala!  I'm not sure how long we will have her for, current plan is a few weeks.

Zumi is in love. She lets Nala get away with all sorts of stuff she never lets other dogs even think about.  Sadly for me, this means they have been playing in the house.  Our house is so tiny that I really prefer the dogs only wrestle or chase outside.  Especially with a crawling baby now!  This usually isn't a problem since my only player is Zumi and her play style is usually more chase than wrestle. Well with Nala she's been more open.  I'm hoping that things settle down once the novelty wears off.

Nala is proving to be a very sweet, gentle girl yet still extremely puppyish!  Between Nala, Yummy, and another lab foster we had last week, it's becoming clear while labs are such great family dogs.  The dynamic between them and Netta is very different than with the other dogs.  I'm still doing a lot of management and making sure Netta isn't grabbing them, but I swear the labs are almost begging to be poked by a child.


Fixing the Vulture

If you read Zumi's trial report of her first experience in the Open obedience class, her biggest issue was over excitement and anticipation with the retrieves.  She was like a little red border collie as she hunkered way down, just twitching to be sent.

I recently spayed her and with the restrictions, it was a great time to work on just being still!
I divided up the issue into 2 goals.

1. Maintaining a straight posture as I cue the wait and go to toss the dumbbell.
2. Offer eye contact after watching the dumbbell fall in order to be released.

Good Posture
The first goal of sitting straight I tackled first.  Zumi doesn't have the issue with me tossing cookies so I went straight to the dumbbell.  Just holding it out and rewarding Zumi if her front paw didn't move forward, always her first move before she really hunkers down.  I would immediately take the db back to my body if the paw moved and re-cue her to sit.

Essentially this just became a version of doggy zen with me moving my arm back and forth in a tossing motion.  I'm not sure how much Zumi knew it was posture I was working on and not eye contact, but I got a 2 for 1 deal.

Eye Contact Before Sending
These last few days as Zumi has been allowed to do more activity, I've moved on to actually requiring eye contact before being sent to retrieve.

My first sessions were very short retrieves where I didn't throw, but gently set out the db on the ground.  This setup was fairly easy for Zumi as it was reminiscent of our work with remote rewards.  Zumi knows that she always needs to give eye contact before getting a reward at a distance.

It did become slightly harder once Zumi knew she was being sent to the db though.  Typically when I work with rewards at a distance, I am the one to go and actually get the reward vs sending the dog to it.  I find this works better for the obsessive tollers for me to have 100% of their brain in training vs some of it on the reward itself.  So once Zumi was being sent to the db on the ground it became a little problem to work through.  But the small distance and lack of throwing was still very doable.

I have recently started throwing the db short distances for Zumi.  This is where getting eye contact has been very difficult.  Zumi's hunt training, although limited, I need her to keep looking straight at her marks until sent or given another cue to turn away.  She will be able to learn the difference in context, but it is not an easy task for her!

I don't require my other dogs to give me eye contact before released after watching a thrown mark, but with Zumi I feel this is crucial to helping her anticipation issues when over excited!

Here was today's session with Zumi and her dumbbell.  Notice I warm up a little bit with posture work, but also let that slide while focusing on the eye contact department!  I'm a little greedy and throw too far here :(

The quick version:

The full session for those who care:


New Website- Online Lessons!

I recently took the jump into making a more formal website for my dog training.  And because I didn't want to feel left out of all the cool trainers having offical business names, I made up one too.

Introducing Tandem Dog Sports

I even used photoshop for my first time!

The big news is that I'm opening up my private lessons to more people and offering them online.
That means people can purchase an hour, or multiple hour blocks, of time for video review and feedback.  It might look something like this:

  • You send me video of a behavior you're training and some notes.
  • I look at the video and spend some time writing suggestions on how to improve or what the next step is.  I keep track of the amount of time I spent working on my feedback.
  • You respond with anything that needs clarifying.
  • I reply back.
  • You send me a new video on the behavior or switch to a new behavior.
  • Repeat the cycle.

This continues until an hour of my time spent on feedback is up!

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Contact Me!

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.- Roger Caras

Email: lkwaudby (at)

Online Private Training:

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