ECAD believes that no one wakes up in the morning and says, “I think I am going to do a horrible job at work today!” However, there are times when we make mistakes and need guidance and redirection. This principle is the same for dogs. Your dog always has good intentions and always wants to make you happy. It’s when things are unclear that your dog’s best intentions may not give you a happy reaction.
Pet parents, this lesson is focused on how you can help your dog keep you smiling.
Train-the-Trainer: Markers, Motivation, & Reinforcement
Have you ever played the “Hot/Cold” game, where someone picks an object and by using only the words “hot” or “cold” guides another person to their selected target?
Markers are similar. They are words used to provide motivation and reinforcement to your dog. Markers, motivation, and reinforcement are key tools to fun and successful teaching.
There are three Markers: “Yes,” “No,” and “That’s It.”
“That’s It” is a motivational tool used to communicate encouragement.
Motivation is the amount of energy needed to complete a task.
Level of Motivation: The level of motivation is specific to each dog and task.
- Too much motivation and your dog will be distracted. (Figure 1)
- Too little motivation and your dog will not be interested. (Figure 2)
Note: You will need to decide on the level of motivation to use based on the difficulty of the task and your dog’s personality. (Figure 3)
“That’s It” motivates your dog to keep trying. Say it with enthusiasm and a smile! (Warm…warmer).
When to use – When your dog is attempting to do the command correctly.
The markers “Yes” and “No” are reinforcement tools that verbally communicate positive and negative reinforcement.
Reinforcement is what you do WHILE the behavior is happening.
Positive Reinforcement happens while the behavior is occurring to make it rewarding.
“Yes” marks the exact moment of appropriate behavior by telling your dog “You’re Right!” (Hot!).
When to use – Every time your dog performs the command correctly. “Yes” is a dramatic and excited marker always given with a smile! Do not drag it out or make it singsong like a question (“Yeesssss?!?”)
You are marking and imprinting the moment for your dog. You do not want to leave any question in their mind.
Example: You give the command to sit. At the exact moment your dog’s rump touches the ground. you say “YES!” and smile! (Figure 4)
Negative Reinforcement happens while the behavior is occurring to make it unpleasant.
“No” marks the exact moment your dog is acting inappropriately. It means “Stop now.” (Cold!).
When to use – You must catch your dog in the act in order to stop the behavior. The “NO!” must be stern, loud, and no nonsense. Do not drag it out or make it singsong like a question (Noooo?!?). You are marking and imprinting the moment for your dog, just like with “Yes.” (Figure 6)
How do you know your dog interpreted the positive or negative reinforcement the way you intended?
If the behavior continues, your dog received a positive reinforcement, even if you said, “No.”
If the behavior stops, your dog received a negative reinforcement, even if you said, “Yes.”
Rules of Reinforcement
Supervision: You cannot influence behavior you did not see! You must catch your dog in the act for both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
- Example: Your pup was peeing on the floor and since you were not there, you cannot influence the behavior.
Timing: You have from 0 to 3 seconds to influence the behavior RIGHT NOW, so reward good behavior, or interrupt wrong behavior and redirect.
- Example: Your pup is peeing on the floor. Do not wait until they are finished. Instead, interrupt the pup and move him/her outside to finish peeing.
Degree: If the behavior did not stop, the degree was not dramatic enough.
- Example: Yell and wave your hands. The drama will cause the pup to stop peeing long enough for you to scoop them up and relocate them outside to finish peeing.
Redirection: A proper redirection ends with a positive behavior. It never ends with a negative.
- Example: You redirected your pup to finish peeing outside, now end on a positive with a “YES!” and even treats, since reinforcing the behavior of peeing outside is what you want.
Last week’s lesson
How to Call Your Dog By Their Name (And Have Them Listen!)
Next week’s lesson
How to Train Your Dog to Watch You
Back to 20 Dog Commands You Need to Know
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All training tips in this series are from ECAD (Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities), a non-profit organization dedicated to training service dogs for veterans with disabilities. Learn more about ECAD.