So Somerset is in Tier 4 and I’ve had to postpone the puppy obedience course yet again… so as a little compensation I thought I’d offer you this introduction to basic training techniques. Hopefully it will help some of you get started with your training and be a reminder for others.
When you train your dog there is a chain or sequence of events taking place. Ideally when fully learned by your dog its going to look like this:
CUE >>> BEHAVIOUR >>> MARK >>> REWARD
But when we teaching this to our dogs we start at the end and work backwards. That’s right we’re starting with the reward! So lets look at them one at a time.
A reward can be many things – play, affection, the opportunity to run around the garden like a lunatic… anything your dogs enjoy really, but the easiest to work with when training obedience is usually food. Start each session by giving perhaps 3 – 5 small treats just to get them engaged. Watch how my Staffy Shenzi changes from distracted to engaged when she realises that there’s treats available.
As your dog matures you might just give one free treat to start the session.
MARK >>> REWARD
What is a marker?
A marker is anything that lets your dog know they’ve done the right thing. It could be a word, a noise, a click from a clicker, even light has been used as a marker.
Are you missing the mark?
its common for people to miss out the marker and just give the reward. Does this matter? Well sometimes. If your dog is right in front of you and you have the treats sitting in your hand probably not. But you don’t always want to have to have the treats in your hand ready to go, and as your training gets more advanced you might be working out of reach of your dog. If the treats are in your pocket when you ask your dog to sit then by the time you’ve gotten one out your dog has…
- sat down
- sniffed the ground
- looked at another dog
- had a scratch…
Which behaviour are you rewarding? From your dog’s point of view its the last thing they did before you rewarded them. You just rewarded your dog for scratching… A marker helps us to precisely mark the exact behaviour that we want.
Priming the marker
For a marker to work your puppy needs to learn that the marker always means that they have earned a reward. So at the beginning of each session we are going to mark and reward. Shenzi’s marker in this video is the word ‘Yes’.
When your dog is new to training I would repeat this at least 10x at the start of a session, as they mature 2 or 3x will be plenty.
BEHAVIOUR >>> MARK >>> REWARD
So now you want to pick out the behaviour that we want. If its a behaviour they do a lot anyway we can ‘capture’ it, that is – wait until it happens anyway and then mark and reward it as in this video where I capture Shenzi’s sit.
The other alternative is to lure the behaviour. It basically just means getting them to follow your hand with a treat in it. Here’s Shenzi being lured into a down.
CUE >>> BEHAVIOUR >>> MARK >>> REWARD
What is a cue?
A cue is anything that signals to your dog what they need to do. It could be a word, a hand gesture or both together. Sometimes we add cues by accident. If, for example, we always train ‘sit’ in front of a white door your puppy may learn that sit is something they do when next to a white door! The door has become part of the cue. That’s why its important to practice in lots of different situations.
Why does the cue come last?
Its all about making it easier for our dogs to learn. Learning what behaviour to do and the right cue to signal when to do it all at the same time can be confusing for your pup and slow their learning down. Add the cue once your puppy responds reliably to the lure.
Timing the cue.
At first you are going to give the cue as you lure them into position. Repeat lots of times. Then gradually start saying the cue just before you start luring. Once your puppy is starting to respond before you start to lure you can gradually fade out the lure… making your movements smaller and smaller until you just give the cue. Here I have reduced the hand movement to just a flap of my hand.
So that’s the basics. There’s a few videos recorded in lockdown 1 on our Facebook group Obedience & Rally @ SVDTC Members Group | Facebook looking at specific exercises on the Puppy Foundation course. Lets hope we can start training face to face soon.