Sometimes our dogs don't do what we want simply because they don't understand us. In order to improve communication, we need to clearly indicate when the dog is doing the right thing and when he needs to try something else. To do this, we will mark specific behaviors with either a reward marker or a no-reward marker.
A reward marker is a sound that tells the dog that what he was doing at the exact moment will earn him a reward. It signals that reinforcement is about to happen and is the bridge between the instant the dog performs the behavior and the moment a reward is received. We will be using a verbal “YES” as our reward marker.
A no reward marker isn’t a correction – it simply lets your dog know that he needs to try something else in order to get the reward. For soft dogs, you might just want to try something like an “OOPS”. For dogs with a medium temperament, a firm “NO” might do the trick. For strong-willed dogs, a sharp sound like AH-AH-AH (duck noise) might work best.
When your dog does something especially well, give him a jackpot. Mark the behavior with a verbal “YES” and make a fuss while you deliver a bunch of treats, one at a time. A 15 to 30 second jackpot can make a big impression on your dog and make him even more attentive to you in the future.
Timing is critical – the most common mistake is to say YES too late.
Be sure that the treat FOLLOWS the YES marker. The YES and TREAT should not occur simultaneously. The YES is a bridge to the reward.
Don’t overuse the no reward marker. Try to positively reward your dog 80 percent of the time. If you find yourself using no reward markers too much, lower your expectations – you may be asking too much of your dog too soon.
When teaching a new behavior, or if the dog is adjusting to a new handler, ALWAYS reward with treats. Once your dog “gets” the behavior, start swapping out the food rewards for other rewards (See USE OF FOOD AS A REWARD document for ideas).
Take a break if you or your dog are getting frustrated, but always end on a positive note. Ask your dog to do something simple and reward/praise.