Nancy Kerns: Hi! I am Nancy Kerns, Editor of the Whole Dog Journal and today we're going to talk about markers. A marker is the signal that you use at the moment the dog performs the behavior that you want him to do.
Animal trainers often use a clicker as a marker, because the sounds they make are distinctive and consistent. Some trainers prefer to have their hands free. So they may use a verbal signal such as the word, yes.
For deaf dogs, you might use a gesture such as a thumbs-up or the flash of a light. To work well the market much be consistent and must be given at the very moment the animal does the desired behavior. A marker doesn't accomplish anything by itself. What makes it significant is the treat or other reward that is given immediately afterward. The marker predicts with a 100% accuracy that a reward is about to follow.
If the handler is consistent about what behavior they mark and delivering the word every time he uses the marker, the animal will figure out very quickly what he did that earned him a treat. Once a dog understands the process a marker can help a trainer bridge the moment between the animal's correct behavior to the delivery of the treat.
Many dogs start doing all the tricks and their repertoire as soon as they see treats. When this happens we know the dog doesn't actually know which behavior is wanted. He disassociates a handful of behaviors with rewards. Using a marker can help him differentiate which exact behavior earned the reward. Only the right answer earns the marker and reward which quickens the training process and that's how markers are used to train your dog.