There is nothing more harmful in dog training than lack of clarity and consistency. Decades ago, dog trainers relied heavily on harsh leash corrections to mark unwanted behaviors causing anxiety in the poor dogs which had to figure out what exactly was asked of them. With a better understanding of learning theory and how dogs communicate, trainers nowadays can focus more on training dogs what to do rather than punishing them for what they did not do.
Understanding Cues, Markers, and Release Words
Cues, markers and release words are core components in training that help us effectively communicate with dogs. If we reinforce behaviors we like and ignore behaviors we do not like, dogs will learn fairly quickly which behaviors are the most advantageous to display. If we also give names for the behaviors we want and tell dogs when they are done with the exercise, things will be much easier for both parties. Following is an explanation of how to use cues, markers and release words in dog training.
Cues are verbal or non-verbal actions used to tell the dog to perform a particular behavior. Verbal cues are often referred to as “commands”. Sit, stay, heel are some common verbal cues. Non-verbal cues can be hand gestures or body movements delivered for the same purpose as verbal cues. Some owners like to train their dogs using exclusively non-verbal cues. Non-verbal cues can be useful when the dog is at a distance or when training deaf dogs.
It is important for dog owners to ensure they are consistent with their verbal cues. If you want your dog to sit, use the word “sit” and avoid using “sit down”. If you want your dog to lay down, don’t use the down command also to ask your dog to stop jumping or get off the sofa. Make sure your family is also consistent on cues; you can’t use “here’ when your spouse uses “come” and your kids use your dog’s name to train the dog a recall!
Markers are used to signal to the dog he has engaged in a correct or incorrect behavior. There are positive and negative markers. Positive markers are used to tell the dog what he is doing is right. Some of the most common positive markers are “good boy” or “yes!”. However, also sounds can be used to mark wanted behaviors. Clickers, for instance, emit clicks that tell the dog “Bingo! you got it right!”
Negative markers are telling the dog “Sorry, you got it wrong”. In the case of reward-based training, it often means no treat will be coming. The most common negative markers are “ah-ah” or “oh, no!”. Some like to say “try again”.
Understanding Release Words
Release words are simply telling the dog the exercise has ended and the dog is free to go back to its normal activities. A common release word used in dog training is “OK” or “done!” Release words help add duration to stationary exercises. Say your dog is sitting, he will learn to stay in the sit position until you tell him he is done.
Cues, markers and release words play an integral role in dog training and helps owners and trainers deliver clear, easy to understand guidelines. A win-win situation for all!