Marker Dog Training & The Four Quadrants of Operant Conditioning

In today’s video, I’ll be discussing markers, operant conditioning, and how we can use this to develop strong communication channels with our dogs.

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Firstly, there are the two positive types of markers: The first one is the continuation marker (I like to use the word “yes”). This is a word or sound that lets the dog know that they are correct and will be delivered a reward. It’s called a continuation marker because unlike the terminal marker, it doesn’t release the dog. Meaning, if your dog is in a command stay, you can use this marker without releasing the dog from the stay.

However, if your dog is not in a command stay, then this marker just means they’ll be rewarded. Therefore, this often confuses people because of the terminology “continuation”. This is why it’s easier to understand by what it predicts: A continuation marker predicts a reward. That’s it. It doesn’t change the circumstances, so if the dog is in a stay, they remain in the stay, and if the dog is not in a stay, then they remain free from the stay.

In contrast, we have the terminal markers (I like to use the word “free”). These release dogs from commanded positions as well as guaranteeing a reward. Ex.: If a dog was in a sitting position and you use your terminal marker, they are released from that position and will be given a reward (indicating the sit behavior is finished).

We also have a non-reinforcement marker, and this is for mistakes. For example, if you tell your dog to sit, and the dog downs instead, you would use your non-reinforcement marker and then you would re-command the sit. Once the dog sits, you would then reward the dog. Giving a dog the ability to make mistakes and try again is imperative. If the dog gets corrected for making a mistake too early in training, then the dog will become cautious and is less likely to try new things, which would make it more difficult to teach new behaviors.

I also like to teach a marker that signals negative reinforcement. This is very useful when teaching the stay command or if you wanted to teach your dog to not jump on the furniture. This helps your dog to learn what they can and can’t do without receiving a form of positive punishment. The type of negative reinforcement that it predicts is leash pressure. (As mentioned earlier, for the purposes of this book, we will use the word “Wrong”)

The last marker is a signal for positive punishment. This sound lets the dog know they will be corrected. We use this for behaviors we would like to remove from the dog’s repertoire. After we say the conditioned correction (“No”), the correction is performed through a training collar. It’s important that these markers are pinpointed at the 46 moment of time an undesirable behavior occurs, because if the timing is off, the dog will think the correction is being made for an entirely different behavior.

In regard to the science part, keep in mind that when you are training your dog the science is always the same; what varies between each dog are things like motivation, perseverance, intelligence, temperament, disposition, etc. Being able to adjust for each dog’s specific needs is considered the art of dog training.

Because of this, not all techniques work on all dogs; and as a result, you have to be able to adjust accordingly. For example, a dog with a very high level of perseverance will continue to work through a difficult task to get a reward—while other dogs may give up early.


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