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Mark-Rewards Training – November 28, 2012

One of the greatest gifts we can give our dogs is clear, concise and consistent communication.

Mark/Reward training is a simple way to communicate with your dog, letting him know, YES, that’s exactly what I want!” It helps your dog sort out what you’re really asking, and gives him a way to understand the rules. It’s the quickest way for a dog to learn and fun for both the dog and human as they learn together how to best communicate.

The first thing we want to do to get started is to ‘charge up’ the reward marker. Just say the word ‘YES’ (or click your clicker) and give your dog a treat within a second. Practice until you can deliver 10 treats in 15 seconds. The order is very important. The treat must come after the YES or click. Yes! Then treat. This is how your dog learns that YES predicts a reward.

Timing is everything. Be sure to say YES at the exact moment your dog does what you want. Then you can deliver the treat. Decide what behavior you are going to reward ahead of time. As your dog is first learning a behavior, ie, to look at you when you say his name, you may first decide to ‘mark’ just a head turn but then build up to ‘marking’ full eye contact.

Once your dog knows the behavior in that setting, move to random rewards. Rewards can be petting, neck scratches, tossing a toy, going outside in addition to just treats.

The best way to teach a new behavior is to reward every success, every time. The best way to keep a learned behavior strong is to reward it less frequently and randomly. Your dog will try harder knowing that he might get a reward at any given time. You can start to reward for every 2 sits or after 2 or 3 different behaviors. Sometimes make it harder and sometimes make it easier.

It’s important to transition away from food rewards when the dog has learned the desired behavior. Begin to introduce ‘life’ rewards. Still say YES when your dog does something you want, but instead of giving a treat, give a neck scratch, belly rub, play with a toy, go for a walk or anything else your dog enjoys. Keep observing your dog’s response to things and use rewards to keep the behavior strong. Use food rewards occasionally as well.

Dogs don’t generalize behaviors right away. Just because they know sit in the kitchen does not mean they know sit at the store or in your backyard. We have to re-teach them each behavior in gradually more difficult situations so they will eventually generalize. It’s very important to make things easier (what and how much you are asking for) when you train in a new place or with more distractions. If your dog can do a 30 second down/stay in your living room, start by asking for a 3 second down/stay outside and work up from there.

Keep teaching your dog and help him be successful. Keep him well rewarded through praise, food, games and other things that he enjoys.

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