Are you teaching your dog what you think?

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When it comes to training, timing is everything.

Imagine you are teaching your dog to walk nicely on the lead. For you this means walking by your side with a loose lead and focused on you. There’s a moment where this is all aligned so you decide to treat your dog. In the second it’s taken you to give your dog that treat are they still doing all three of those things? Probably not. They may have strayed out of position, got distracted by an interesting smell or jumped up in anticipation of the treat. This means that it can take far longer for our dogs to understand what we are trying to teach them and we may be accidentally rewarding behaviours we don’t want.

This is where having a marker word or sound (such as a clicker) is an excellent way to make sure we are communicating as clearly as possible with our dogs. Marker words can be anything but commonly used ones are, ‘nice!’, ‘yes!’ or ‘good!’. Ideally they should be short so that you can mark the exact moment the dog is performing the desired behaviour.

A clicker is the ultimate tool as it is quick to use and sounds exactly the same every time - even if different people are using it - which is especially useful to provide consistency if there is more than one person training the dog.

Before the marker can be effective you need to teach the dog that the sound means they’ve done the right thing and a yummy treat is on the way.

1. Say the marker word or click the clicker.
2. Immediately give your dog a treat.
3. Repeat 10 times.
4. End the session.

Start by using the clicker behind your back to lessen the noise as you don’t want to startle your dog.

Carry out several training sessions over a few days. Just as with Pavlov’s dogs you want your dog to hear the marker sound and expect a treat. Try making the noise when your dog isn’t paying you any attention. If they come over to you expecting a treat you know that they’ve created the association. To make sure you do not lose this you must give them a treat every time they hear the sound, even if you made it by accident.

Now you can start using the marker in the rest of your training!
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