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  • What is a Reward Marker and How Can I Use it?

    Posted March 23, 2017 By in Educational, Training Your Puppy With | No Comments

    While learning about dog training, you may have heard the term “reward marker”. But to use a reward marker correctly, it’s important that you not only know what a reward marker is, but also how to use it. 

    reward markers for dog training - noble beast dog trainingWhat is a reward marker?

    Every time that you ask your dog to perform a behavior, they will either do it right or do it wrong. When they do it right, it is important that you mark that behavior with a reward marker so that they know they’ve done what you are asking. 

    A reward marker can be a signal, visual effect or sound. Most people use a verbal cue, or a clicker, as their reward marker, but you can also use a thumbs up or flash of light. These last two are particularly useful with dogs that are hard of hearing or deaf. Examples of verbal cues are “Yes!”, “Bingo”, and “Nice”. If using a verbal cue, it should be short, easy to say and in a consistent tone.  

    Here at Noble Beast, we like to think about reward markers in comparison to the hot/cold game that you play when you’re a kid. As you moved in one direction, you were told you were getting hotter. This came with the reward of finding whatever it is you were looking for. However, when you moved away from your target, you weren’t told anything, but that silence was still useful information. 

    In a dog’s world, the reward marker you choose is their “hot”. It lets them know that they’re on the right path. And their reward is the treat, play time or affection that immediately follows. 

    How do I use a reward marker? 

    Once your dog performs the behavior that you are asking of him, you have 1-3 seconds from the time your dog has done the right or wrong thing, to mark the behavior. 

    The reward marker should then be, quickly but separately, followed by a reward that reinforces the correct behavior.  This reinforcer is usually a delicious treat, but that depends on what your dog is motivated by. Some dogs prefer being rewarded with petting, toys or running around, and it’s important to use a reinforcer that motivates your dog. As mentioned above, remember to keep the action of giving the reward separate from the reward marker or your dog might get confused about what the reward marker is. For example, if you use the verbal cue “Bingo” and at the exact same time reach into a treat pouch for a treat, your dog might think the reward marker is a combination of the two. this would cause the verbal cue to be useless without reaching for the treat. So be sure to give your reward marker, take a 1 second pause, and THEN deliver the treat, toy, play – or whatever reward you are using to motivate your dog! 

    Putting it all together!

    So, to recap everything above, if you ask your dog to sit, you should mark their behavior within 1-3 seconds, then deliver there reinforcer, quickly but separably.Using a reward marker is a great way to communicate with your dog. It will tell them that they’re doing exactly what you want, and motivate them to do it again next time you ask.

    Have questions about reward markers? Let us know in the comment section below!


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Philip Seyer » 03. Aug, 2018

Thanks for this article. I enjoyed reading it. However, it would help to give credit to the person who created clicker training and to discuss the technical terms he first introduced. BF Skinner developed the concept of the reward marker in the 1930’s with thousands of experiments. In December 1951 he introduced the world to clicker training in an article published in the Scientific American titled “How to Train Animals.”

Mindy Jarvis » 03. Aug, 2018

Hi Philip,

Thanks for the post and suggestion. I appreciate your contribution to our sight. To be quite honest, this article is about reward marking – not clicker training and at the time, we did not feel the need to provide a history lesson on the methods we use, but rather solid information that dog owners could read, comprehend, and use themselves. I am not dismissing the importance of crediting people who have influenced the dog training world by any means, but again our goal was really to simply provide helpful info.

With that said, I do have a different understanding about the article you mention and clicker training.

The name of BF Skinner’s article was actually called ‘How to TEACH Animals’. In that article he was trying to educate us about OPERANT CONDITIONING, not Clicker Training specifically. As a matter of fact, he talked about creating a CONDITIONED REINFORCER, or “signal of sort matched with something the animal wants”. As a CONDITIONED REINFORCER, he mentions using a noise, a light, visual signals, a rap on table, “or the noise of a high-pitched device such as a cricket.” (BF Skinner 1) matched with food, but never used the word “Clicker” in that article. Here is a link to that article – http://www.appstate.edu/~steelekm/classes/psy5150/Documents/Skinner1951.pdf

While BF Skinner was a forefather in introducing Operant Conditioning to the dog training world as we know it today, the term “Clicker Training” actually “is an application of behavior analysis that was initially invented and developed more than thirty years ago, by Keller Breland, Marian Breland Bailey, and Bob Bailey.” (Karen Pryor), which you can read about in a blog called ‘History of Clicker Training’ on Karen Pryor’s website by following this link – https://www.clickertraining.com/node/153

Again, I so appreciate your contribution and suggestion of sharing the history and crediting these training methods to the wonderful scientists and animal trainers before us who absolutely should be acknowledged and credited!

Mindy Jarvis – Owner/Trainer
Noble Beast Dog Training

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