BDBN 5 | Marker Training

The Magic Of Markers

Most of Doug Poynter’s clients hire him to solve their dog’s behavior problems. For such cases, he typically uses a method called marker training, more popularly known as clicker training. In this special session, Doug explores the magic of markers in training your dog to be an obedient and loving pet. He explains the basics of marker training and the most common mistakes to avoid. Doug also talks about the advantages of practicing this training with real-life people before actually trying it on your pet.

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The Magic Of Markers

In this episode, we have a shorter session than we would normally have. This is not going to take a huge amount of your time, but I’m going to teach you about marker training. We’re calling our session The Magic Of Markers. That was a thing when I was a kid. Marker training is truly magical. If it sounds unfamiliar to you, as I go through this, you’re going to realize that you do know what it is but maybe you just haven’t heard it.

A marker training is sometimes more popularly known as clicker training. Even if you haven’t used a clicker, you’re probably aware of it, but I want to explain some general principles. I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail. You need to see it. There are lots of nuances to this that you need to know to be good at this. What I’m going to talk with you about are some basics.

Here’s the reality. People hire me because they have behavior problems with their dogs, and I’m good at solving those problems. I will tell you before we get any further that I use marker methods to solve behavior problems. I haven’t found anything that works better to do that. You’ll know about some of the basics of marker training in this session.

It is magical and simple when you stop, think about it, and understand its principles. I get hired to solve behavior problems, so most of the folks that I work with are not looking for an obedience champion dog. I don’t think most dog owners are looking for an obedience champion dog, but I will tell you this. If you want a dog that will listen to you, will come to you when you call the dog, will sit when you ask it to sit, will lie down when you ask it to lie down, will walk politely on a leash, when that’s what you want, then marker training is far and away the best way to make that happen and have the dog be happy to work for you.

You can get all of those exercises completed with what I call command and correct training. It’s the old-school style of training where if the dog doesn’t do what you ask, you correct it. You can get all of those results and might even be able to get them in some instances slightly quicker than you can with marker training, but you won’t have a happy dog. You won’t have a dog that loves to work for you and be led by you in the work.

When I’m working with dogs that have been the “victims” of command and correct training, then when we start with the marker training, whether we’re starting with basics or solving a behavior problem, you see the enthusiasm of the dog ramp up, and you see them get happy. I met with somebody. When I first met with them, it was a few years ago. They had a little Cocker Spaniel female that at that time was seven that they had rescued. She was very shy. She would hear noise and run. She stayed away from my clients and didn’t want to interact. We started with marker training to cure those behavior problems.

Two years later, they hired me because they wanted her to get better around other dogs. It wasn’t anything they even knew about when they hired me before because they weren’t able to interact closely enough with her to be able to see that come about, but it did come about, so they hired me for that. In getting started with the behavior modification for that, we revisited some of the clicker training basics that I gave them.

I thought we were going to have to work quite a bit to get her focus and get her working. No. This dog could be an obedience champion dog. She’s so good and fired up about the clicker. The behavior modification we did when she looked at other dogs, the clicks and the treats, worked so well. Her focus on her owner worked well.

It was an amazing session. They were stunned at how good she was. It was her enthusiasm and love for the work, which was not showing in her personality when we first started. A lot of people go, “You can’t train with positive reinforcement.” The marker training does wonder and worked wonders with her. I’m going to show you some of the basics of this. If you want a dog that behaves in a normal fashion, that will listen to you and obey you, this is the best.

On the other hand, if you want an obedience champion dog, you still can’t find anything better than marker training. The exactness with which you can train, the precision that you can train and put into your dog’s behavior is beyond anything else. It takes a lot longer when you’re doing it like that, but it gets to be very cool when you start to understand how this works. Let me describe it a bit for you.

Before we get off this session, I’m going to give you two books that you can go to and get. They’re not big books or textbooks. It’s not going to be something you have to study and slave over. There will be easy books to read that will give you a little bit more detail so that you can begin to do this with your dog. Marker training, sometimes better known as clicker training, is a great way to train with positive reinforcement.

The marker is a noise. When you press the little clicker, you hear that little click sound. If you don’t use a clicker or you don’t want to use a clicker, and there could be some legitimate reasons for that, then what most people use is a verbal mark. In place of the click sound, most people will use the word yes. You don’t say yes the normal way or a normal conversational yes.

Yes for markers sound very pleasant and enthusiastic. You then draw it out a little bit. You don’t say it loud nor scream it. I’ve had clients who got so excited because they saw such great results with their dogs. They said yes so loud that they scared me. It’s normal sounding in terms of volume. Try to make it more high-pitched and a nicer sounding yes than your everyday conversational word. The sound of the click is the traditional way to do the mark.

The reality of it is marker training was first introduced, if I read my history correctly, by training dolphins. What was used was a whistle to mark behavior. That was done simply because the dolphins could hear the whistle better under the water. Clickers are typically used with dogs. We’re going to talk about that and the verbal mark as well.

Verbal Marker

Let me explain some of the basics here so that it’s easy for you to picture how this would work. The sound of the mark, whether it be a click or a verbal yes occurs in the instant that the dog is performing the behavior that we want. It is a moment in time or a second in time that we are capturing with the sound of the mark. If you are teaching your dog to sit, as the dog’s butt is hitting the ground, you either say yes or you click. That click or verbal mark yes serves to let the dog know that what he or she is doing is what we want.

The second function of the marker besides marking behavior is also a bridge to the primary reinforcer of the dog’s behavior, which is a food treat. It occurs like this. This is for sit. As the butt hits the ground, click, reach in, and provide the dog with a food treat. Why does that work so well? The dog begins to associate the sound of that click means something good is going to happen. “Whatever I’m doing, when I hear the sound of that click, I’m going to do it over and over again.” Once they get it, you start to see their enthusiasm pop up and their excitement for the behavior. As a matter of fact, what you’ll start to see is the dog will start to offer the behavior to you without you even asking for it.

Here’s the reality. If your dog has no idea what sit means, then you can shape the dog’s behavior. Shaping is partly what marker training is about. Some of the marker training experts and purists will probably cringe when I say this, but you could lure the dog into the sit-with-a-food treat. Hold the food treat over the dog’s head. As the dog looks up and back to see the food treat, typically they sit because it’s more comfortable to sit and look up and back. As the butt hits the ground, you either say yes, or you click and give the dog the food treat.

This is the basics of marker training. When you’re calling a dog to come to you, if the dog walks in your direction, click or say yes. Hand out a food treat. If the dog doesn’t have any idea how to come to you, face the dog and back up. As you back up, that will lure the dog to you. As the dog starts walking in your direction, say yes or click and then hand the dog the food treat. It is not something where you want to use yes and a click. Pick one. You can use them in different instances. My dog, for example, will work for a click, a yes and a whistle but only use one marker during a training session. You don’t mix the markers up.

In marker training, some dogs will work for clicking, while others will work for a whistle. During a training session, only use one marker and don't mix them up. Share on X

Charge The Mark

The reality of this is that it points out behavior to the dog and lets the dog know something very pleasant is going to come behind that, which is a food treat. When you get started with this, if your dog has never done this, you need to do what’s called charge the mark. Stand in front of your dog with food treats and a clicker, or be ready with the yes marker. For no reason whatsoever, click or say yes and then hand a treat. Do that 5 to 10 times. Only use 1 marker for 1 individual session on that.

What you are doing is creating the association, “When I hear that mark or that noise, there’s going to be something good that comes after that, a food treat.” That’s called charging the mark. The mark is charged up. We have the ability to start getting results very quickly. What I always like to do with the dog that’s never done this before is after charging the mark, stand in front of the dog and back up. As the dog starts coming to me, I click and treat and then back up. I wait for the dog to get closer before I click and treat. Eventually, I’ll wait for the dog to get to me before I click and treat. That’s how specific it is.

Once that happens, then I’ll teach sit. Sometimes I lure the dog into a sit. Sometimes you can wait for the dog to sit naturally. If you stand and ignore the dog, a lot of times, the dog will sit. When that happens, click and treat. If you want to do the lure, hold the food treat up and over the dog’s head so it has to look up and back. As his butt hits the ground, click, and then hand the food treat.

Loose Leash

These are some basics. You can teach the dog to walk politely on a loose leash by standing in your yard or house. Pretend like you’re standing on the face of a clock. Wherever you’re facing is 12:00. The dog is on your left with the leash in your right hand. It’s across the front of your body. If there’s slack in the leash, click and treat. If the dog is pulling against the leash, don’t do anything. Whatever you do, don’t pull back but stand steady and let the dog pull against the leash.

When the dog stops pulling because you’re not pulling back, you’re just standing stationary, it gets closer to you and puts slack on the leash, then you click and treat. You’ll see the dog begin to get closer to you because he got rewarded when they were slack on the leash. Once he’s starting to stay next to you, then you take your feet and face him at 2:00. If the dog moves along with you, click and treat. Face at 4:00 and click and treat if the dog moves. See if you can get around the face of the clock with the dog on a loose leash next to you on the left side.

When the leash is tight, don’t click. When there’s slack on the leash, click. You’d be surprised how quickly you can make this happen. Do it inside first and then outside in your yard, preferably the backyard where there’s less in the way of distractions. When that happens, you’re going to see him pull to the end of the leash because he wants to go run around in the backyard. Don’t do anything. Don’t pull back. Stand there and wait for the leash to get slack in it. When it’s slack, click and treat, and do the same exercise. That’s one way that you start teaching the dog to walk politely on the leash.

Clicker Training

Here are some mistakes that people make in clicker training. The first mistake I see a lot is people miss the instant to click. You can find a clicker training class. I encourage you to find one in your area. When you go to a clicker training class, many times they’ll teach you to click by having you click for a chicken pecking on a button.

Chickens are very fast, so you’ve got to get your timing right. If what you’re wanting to do is have the chicken peck the button, then you’ve got to click when the beak makes contact with the button. You can miss that if you’re not fast enough. It’s the same way with your dog. If you’re trying to create a behavior, you need to click in the instant the behavior occurs.

The second mistake people make with clicker training that I find contributes to missed clicks. You’re so concerned about the food. With the old-school training rewards with food, the food must be presented in the instant that the behavior is occurring. You got to be fast with the food. That’s not the case here. You don’t want to take forever to get the food after the click, but what’s got to be timed is the click. What the dog starts to work for is the sound of the click.

What I find is when people are trying to be efficient and they want to get that food quickly, they’re thinking about the food while they’re trying to think about the click. They can’t concentrate on the dog’s behavior so they miss. What I always say is to be inefficient. This is a two-step process. This is not all one seamless step. That click has got to be Tom Bright. You can reach in and get a food treat.

Some people think so much about the treats when training their dog that they cannot concentrate on the click training. This is a two-step training and not one seamless step. Share on X

I highly recommend that you get a treat bag that does not hang loose around your way. It’s hanging down, but it’s one that’s got maybe a clip on the back of it that you can put on your belt buckle. It’s got a magnet where you can open the treat bag and then close it. Get the treats in that treat bag and open it up so you can reach in and get the treats in a reasonable amount of time.

Some people do not want their treat bag to get messy. I don’t understand that because the treat bag is meant to hold treats, but they’ll put a Ziploc bag in the treat bag and then put the treats in the Ziploc bag. You can do that. I’ve seen some trainers who did it but it’s been my experience that it takes too long to get the treat out when you’re doing that. Dump them in the treat bag. It will be okay.

The thing you want to work on is the timing of the click. Practice with your family. Teach somebody like your kids or husband to touch their forehead. Don’t tell them what it is you’re doing. Get a pocket full of M&M’s or some small candy that you know they like. Stand and talk to them. If they touch their forehead, click, and then hand them that food treat. Go back to talking and wait. If they touch their forehead again, click and hand them the food treat.

Sometimes you have to shape it. That’s part of what this training is. They might not touch their forehead, but they might lift their arm toward their face. What you do is click and treat for that. Once they start lifting it towards their face because they’ve figured out what it is that you’re trying to tell them with the clicks and the treats, then wait a little bit longer. Maybe they want it closer to their face so it gets closer to the face, click, and treat again, and keep doing that until they touch their face. These are some strategies that you can use to shape behavior. Part of clicker training as well is shaping behavior so that the dog learns what it is that you want by means of the markers and the positive reinforcement that’s created by the food treat following the markers. This is a basic overview of clicker training.

Part of clicker training is to shape dog behaviors, so they can learn what you want through markers and positive reinforcements, which is what's created by food treats. Share on X


What I’d like to do is give you some resources that you can use to learn more about this. You can go on YouTube and find all kinds of information about clicker training. The reason I want you to check these books out before you go on YouTube is that there are a lot of folks who have pieces of clicker training mixed in with old-school-style training. That’s not the best way to do it.

Get the information from the person who is the most responsible for this training being brought to us in the United States and in fact, around the world. That person is Karen Pryor. There are two books that you could get that she’s written. She’s got a whole organization dedicated to this. You can find Karen Pryor videos on YouTube as well. That would be where I would go to see this illustrated.

The first book that you want to get is called Don’t Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training by Karen Pryor. There are 183 pages in it. It’s not a big book. If this was a regular 8.5×11 size book, it would probably have 90 or 100 pages in it. It’s an easy read. You can hear about where this came from and how this can be used. She has another book that is a little more user-friendly in terms of you doing the work. It’s entitled Clicker Training for Dogs Karen Pryor. That one is 100 pages long.

You can order those online on Amazon. I’m sure that’s where you can get them. Those are great resources to start learning about clicker training. Go to YouTube and put Karen Pryor. You can see all kinds of videos about clicker training. It will change your relationship with your dog. The most extreme example I’ve seen of this is using clickers for behavior modification and then the training.

I had a client with a 95-pound dog that had bitten somebody in the house seriously. It took me 3 or 4 sessions to be able to get near the dog. I was using behavior modification with clickers the whole time. He would never let anybody get near him prior to this. It took me going offsite with him and his owner to allow it to happen, but it did happen. The clicker was something that facilitated this method of training.

It’s to the point that if I call them on the telephone, his dog dad will say he hears his buddy on the other of the line and wagging his tail. This dog wanted to rip my face off. He was pretty intense. That’s the most extreme example. I deal with that intensity all the time and I am able to change it 90% of the time within one session.

I’ve got a client I may have mentioned in one of my first sessions with a German shepherd that had been trained under the old-school style of Schutzhund training. He was a little too nervy for Schutzhund training. When he flunked out of that, and they sent him to a board-and-train, he went flying out of the crate, trying to attack the board-and-train trainer. That’s when they called me. They asked me if I would take him. I said, “Sure.”

He acted like he wanted to fly off the end of the leash and attack me as well. What I was able to do, and I will show you how to do some of this, it’s risky. You’ve got to be careful. Have a trained behaviorist with you. I wouldn’t try this on my own if I were you. If it’s your dog and you want to make your dog better with people, this is a great way to do it. Use the clicker training behavior modification and distance. That’s what we used with Zeus. At a distance, he went ballistic on me, and then waited him out. When he stopped, that was the behavior that I wanted. I clicked and tossed him a food treat. It took me 45 minutes to get him settled down.

This is a wonderful way. I want you to stay with me on this show because I’ll show you the behavior modification that you can use for this. I always caution on my show talking about behavior modification and bad behavior on the part of dogs. Don’t try it yourself. Get trained behaviors to help you out with this. Most behaviors know this stuff. If you want to talk to me, you can go to my website, There’s an intake form. I’m happy to do a discovery session with you but before you contact me, if I work with you, I will be using clickers and markers. I’ll show you how to do the same.

This has been an overview of marker training. I want you to study it, get these resources, look on YouTube at the stuff that Karen Pryor puts out, and start to play with it with your dog. You’re going to be amazed at the changes that you will see in your dog when you start to get involved with marker training. It’s the newest and the latest. The best-trained dogs in the world are trained with markers. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I look forward to speaking with you next time on episode six.


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