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Tonight I started teaching Kodee a new game (Find It!), and I didn't have any treats handy. Instead of taking my lazy butt into the kitchen & getting some
, I tried just using verbal praise/petting as a reward for his marker ("Yes!"). Normally, "Yes!" means a food reward. Tonight is the first time I've used a different reward (praise/physical affection).

It seemed to work fine (he's catching on to this new game quickly), but before we proceed any further, I wanted to double-check and make sure that this won't end up confusing Kodee. Can a marker mean "Something (anything) good is gonna happen" - treats/praise/ball toss), or does it always have to mean the exact same thing? (I have always used treats and the marker to teach new commands, then once he's learned the command, from then on I usually use a ball to practice/reinforce his training on the new command - he will do anything to get me to toss his Ultra Ball.
 

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Originally Posted By: KodeeGirl Can a marker mean "Something (anything) good is gonna happen" - treats/praise/ball toss),
That's exactly what it means.


The idea of marker training is that the marker itself becomes the reward, signaling that the exercise is complete, dog did what you wanted, and something good will come. What that something good is doesn't so much matter. It can be praise, treat, toy... and it can be different things each training session.
 

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Yes, what Chris said! In fact, good trainers have a whole arsenal of rewards available and they know exactly what works best for their dog. It often makes things more interesting to the dog, too - they don't know what they'll get or when or how much (kind of like why humans keep feeding coins into a slot machine).

If Kodee has higher level rewards (like you mentioned his ultra ball) you can pair that with lower level rewards (like verbal praise and petting) to make the lower level rewards move up in importance. Praise and/or pet and then throw the ball enough and he'll start to see the praise/petting as being more rewarding.

Some dogs don't really respond that highly to petting - my shepherds are okay with it, but it's really low level compared to throwing a toy or a treat. My chows, however, really like it when I get my fingernails under that thick fur and scratch (especially on the back under where the tail curls over). To them, that can be almost as rewarding as a lower level treat and I've used that quite a bit in teaching tricks when laying in bed .. *L* .. the chows would jump up and lay down and I'd teach them to cover their noses with their paws, or speak, or roll on their sides, all with just scritching (as I call it) for reward. But if I tried that with my shepherds, they'd put up with it for awhile and then go off and find a toy to chew on. So I have to adjust the rewards for the dog and for the exercise I'm working on.

With one dog I worked with, a high level of reward was running outside to pee on a bush .. *LOL*

Melanie and the gang in Alaska
 

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Yes, you are correct, the marker simply tells the dog at the precise moment that they did something right and can expect a reward to follow. The important things are for the marker to be consistent (a "clicker" click or a simple word you always use) and for it to be timed correctly. For example when I was teaching Kenya proper jumping technique for agility, I clicked (use a clicker as my marker) AS she was going over the jump, not after her feet hit the ground and she came to me. That way I can communicate EXACTLY what/when she is doing it right and I can still give her some reward even though it's impossible to effectively deliver the reward during the behavior. Another example is when I was teaching Kenya "go to matt" which means she has to find her mat, lie down on it, and stay indefinitely. To test this I would start walking out of the room with my back turned. If she stayed still, I would click. I needed to use a marker b/c I was 20 feet away from her at that moment. I wanted to reward her for staying WHILE I walked away, but could not physically give her a reward so I would click and then go back and deliver the reward. Again, for me a marker does not end the behavior, so she is expected to remain in the down stay even as I'm clicking and rewarding for various tests of distraction. The behavior does not end until I release the dog with my release command.

Another key with a marker is to make sure to distinguish between a marker and a reward. My markers are "yes" and click. My rewards are treats, petting, releasing the dog to do what it wants, inviting the dog to jump all over me (normally not allowed but works as a great motivator for Kenya). You don't want them to get TOO excited over the marker that they lose focus. When we work on heeling I often say "yes......yes.....yes" as she is doing it right and then reward at the end b/c we have worked up to that, but I see a lot of people have built in so much excitement into their marker that the mark actually ends the behavior. For me the mark is just a form of communicating to the dog "yes, that is what I wanted..."

To make sure the dog understands the marker, I usually "charge" it. For clicking, I simply put the dog in a sit and click, treat, click, treat...over and over about 15 times in a row. The dog doesn't have to earn anything, I'm simply re-establishing that the click is affirmative and the dog will get a reward.
 
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