- A Marker is used to mark or identify a desired behaviour.
- A Cue is you asking for a behaviour.
Clickers and other markers
The clicker is used to mark a desired behaviour exhibited by your dog.
The clicker is NOT used to get your dog’s attention.
When your dog gives you the behaviour that you want (e.g. a sit). You click as soon as he sits and follow up with a treat.
Once you’ve started using a clicker in training, any time you click you must treat. Even if you click by accident. (NB If you use a harness with buckles that click, your dog may confuse the sound – have treats on hand if your dog seems frustrated after having a harness put on)
Using a clicker is a personal choice – it can take a little while to get used to it but used correctly can be an invaluable tool. If you do not want to use a clicker, use a marker word instead.
Some dogs might fear the noise of the clicker. If this is the case then you can either use something like a clicky pen, which will be quieter, or if that’s still too scary use a marker word instead.
If using a marker word, pick something quick (preferably one syllable) try to use something you won’t say to the dog at other times (e.g. not ‘yes’ or ‘good’, but maybe ‘nice’ or ‘snap’).
The benefit of using a clicker over a marker word is that it is a unique, consistent sound. A marker word can convey emotion, sounding different. It will also sound different from different people.
When working with deaf dogs, a marker can be visual – a torch flash, or a thumbs up.
Introducing the marker
When you first start you need to get your dog to associate the marker with a treat. The marker becomes a precursor to the reward. To do this, simply sit with your dog, click your clicker (or say your marker word) and follow immediately with a treat to your dog’s mouth. Repeat this about 10 times.
You only need to do this once. If you want to use a combination of clickers, marker words, and visual markers, you will need to do this for each different marker.
Clients often ask me “What word should I use to tell my dog to…?”. Dogs don’t come preprogrammed with a list of commands, or as I prefer to call them cues – we’re cueing a behaviour not commanding it! It doesn’t matter what the word is, as long as you remember the word (or signal), it doesn’t sound similar to another cue or marker word and you successfully teach it to your dog.
Release cues should used at a few different points:
- At the end of any training session, to tell him he can stand down (without it it’s like your just walking off in the middle of a conversation)
- After a recall in the park, and he’s free to go back to sniffing and playing
- To end a ‘Wait’ if there are no further instructions
To start with, he may not really understand what’s meant by the word, but with time he’ll start to recognise it as a release.