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The benefits of teaching a reward marker word

A reward marker word is one of the easiest and most useful things to teach, particularly when working with a dog who shows reactive behaviour towards certain triggers. The concept of the reward marker word is exactly the same as clicker training, in which in the clicker can be used to pinpoint a very specific behaviour, so that the dog knows precisely what has earned them their reward. This makes it much easier for the dog to learn, and for the trainer to reinforce very quick or subtle behaviours. 

When using a reward marker, we simply choose a suitable word to use in place of the clicking sound. A popular choice is the word “YES!” because it can be said very quickly, and always sounds positive! Any word can be used, but anything with more than one syllable isn’t ideal for marking very specific behaviours. It is important to stick with a certain tone/pitch when giving the marker word, so that the dog doesn’t become confused when hearing that word in normal conversation. For example, the marker word “YES!” should be said as it is written here – loudly, clearly and in a positive and upbeat tone. Just like in clicker training, the word should be “charged” before use by repeatedly saying the word and immediately following up with a treat.

The reward marker word has all of the benefits of clicker training but is essentially a hands-free version, since the handler doesn’t have to carry a clicker with them! This can make training much easier in real-life situations such as on walks in public, where the handler may already be trying to juggle a lot of different things. When working with reactive dogs in particular, not having to think about physically holding and activating a clicker might seem like a very small adjustment; but having one less thing to manage can really help to lower the stress-levels of a dog owner who may already be feeling somewhat overwhelmed. Those new to dog training/using reward markers can often find a reward marker word less intimidating than using a clicker, and whilst you can easily forget to bring your clicker when heading out and about, you can’t forget your voice!

When working with reactive dogs, the reward marker word can be invaluable. It can be used to great effect for marking and reinforcing the exact moment that the dog spots a potential trigger, and/or the exact moment that choose to look away or check-in with their handler. It is also a great alternative to the clicker for dogs who are sound-sensitive, and may find the loud clicking noise aversive or startling. When working with rescue dogs prior to adoption, using a reward marker word rather than a clicker means that the adopter doesn’t have purchase any special equipment; this can increase the likelihood of the training program being continued in the new home.

Where the reward marker word can fall down in comparison to the clicker is in terms of consistency and clarity. If multiple different people are going to be training the same dog, it is important that everyone delivers the word as similarly as possible to avoid confusion. Some people may find it difficult to use the same positive tone of voice when feeling stressed or simply having a bad day, so it may not be right for every handler.

The clicker is widely known as an excellent training tool, which research has shown to be more effective for learning than simply using praise or reinforcers alone. However, the reward marker word may be a more practical option for many dogs and clients!



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