Introduction to Positive Training & Using a Clear Marker Signal

What is Positive Training?

Positive training involves both learning more about your animal’s species specific behavior as well as helping them learn with the clearest communication possible. Science and many years of behaviorists and trainers’ experience shows that animals learn best when people use positive and encouraging methods.

Mountain Hooves & Paws’ training approach is all about building confidence and encouraging behaviors. We start from the premise that we build behaviors, we do not suppress them. So, you’ll find yourself asking:

What behaviors can I teach my animal so he/she learns:

  • Better Manners?
  • Confidence Around Other Animals and People?
  • Skills Such as Agility and Trick?
  • Fun Exploring and Traveling?
  • Etc!!

Understanding Animal Behavior

Part of your training will be to learn some interesting communication signals your animals use when trying to “talk” with you. For example, did you know that when your dog turns his head away from you, he’s most likely asking you to go slower or otherwise calm down? And, when your dog flicks his tongue, she’s often feeling stressed?

During the private lesson program (if you’re continuing on with us at Mountain Hooves & Paws), we’ll be asking you to read Turid Rugaas’s book, On Talking Terms With Dogs. You’ll be amazed at what your dog is telling you – and as you apply this knowledge, your dog will be grateful you’re finally understanding what she or he is saying!

The Importance of Clear Marker Signals

The training we’ll provide for you in this short course will help you clear up one method of animal training that’s often confusing for animals – how to properly use a marker signal.

To start:

When you think of how you’d like to enhance your communication with your animal during a training practice, the question to ask is “what marker signal do I currently use?” In other words, how do you let your animal know she just understood what you wanted?

  • Do you reach for a treat?
  • Do you say “good dog”?
  • Do you give a visual “okay” by nodding your head?

All these are marker signals. But, they are often confusing and unclear to the animals – especially if the timing is delayed or the word/gesture is used in other situations, too.

So, to clear up your communications with your animal, we encourage clients to use a very distinctive marker signal called a “clicker.” The animal learn that this “click” sound is their own marker signal – and because they never hear it in any other context, it helps them truly understand they just did something that we’re asking for!

You’ll start by learning skills such as clicker timing, observation of your animal, and treat delivery to your animal. Then, we’ll help you build value for the sound of the clicker – and show you how to train your animal that the “click” sound means he/she just did something you’ll reward.

AN IMPORTANT NOTE: The clicker marks the behavior as it’s happening and is only a training tool which will be faded in time. In other words, it is not used as a cue to initiate a behavior. You’ll be adding sounds, or words, or gestures to cue behaviors.

If you’re confused, don’t worry. There’s a lot coming which will help you understand! You are on your way to having a wonderful communication tool for your animal’s training.

So, let’s get started with Lesson 1!

And, if you’d like to see just how far you can go with clicker training, check out the wonderful freestyle bonds going on between Carolyn Scott and Rookie (the first video) — as well as Attila Szkukalek and Fly in the second video. You can only do this level of work with positive, clear training!