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
Motivation is the amount of energy needed to complete a
Level of Motivation: The level of motivation
is specific to each dog and task.
- Too much motivation and your dog will be distracted.
- Too little motivation and your dog will not be interested.
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.
“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
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
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!
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.
Dog Training Tips without Treats
An effective method to get dogs to listen to you is to use food
treats. The dogs momentarily forget about what’s around them
and patiently follow the instructions provided by the owner.
Most people tend to heavily rely on using the food-based reward
system when their dogs listen to them. As time progresses, they
forget about phasing out the system as it is more convenient
than anything else. On top of that, the dogs will only respond
when you have food to offer. So how do train dogs and reward
them without treats? Here are 5 different ways to reward your
Give your dog life
rewardsOnce your dog has successfully finished the set
of commands that it was supposed to follow, take your dog out
for a walk or allow them to run in the backyard or get
splashed by the sprinkler. Just allow them to do any activity
they enjoy after the end of every training session.
Play with your
dogAnother way to reinforce the good behavior is to
play with your dog after it followed your every command. You
can give access to their favorite toys such as a ball or a
Frisbee to reward them. You can also play games with your dog
like hide and seek, tug o’ war, and fetch. Playing is also a
great way to establish a relationship with your dog.
themDogs love to be cuddled. Once they have done what
you wanted them to do, you can pat them on the head or give
them belly rubs as a form of reward. They also like it when
you give them long and slow strokes on their backs. However,
you have to judge when it is the right time to cuddle with
them. If they are avoiding you because they want to play,
then touching them is not a gesture for a reward. If they
come close to you when you pat them, then it is a rewarding
Talk to your
dogEveryone loves to receive praises and that includes
your four-legged friend. Words are very powerful and can form
strong connections with your dog. When they have completed
the given set of tasks, you can reinforce their good behavior
with words such as ‘Who’s a good boy/girl?’ or ‘good dog’ as
a form of positive reinforcement. By adding happiness to the
tone of your voice, your dog will know that you are
acknowledging its good behavior.
boundariesYou might have set boundaries in certain
places in your house such as the kitchen and the bedroom. You
can reduce the size of these boundaries and allow your dog to
take one step closer to these places as a reward for
listening to your commands. That way, your dog will
understand that you trust them and will become more obedient.
Now you know how to reward your dog with positive reinforcement
that doesn’t involve treats. This way, your dog will always
listen to you, irrespective of whether you are going to reward
them for their good behaviour.
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
Back to 20 Dog Commands You Need to
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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.