Training Basics: Timing, Reward Marker, Reward Delivery

Three simple training concepts that are worth explaining and greatly affect training. The timing of the reward marker and reward delivery are essential for training to be effective.

Timing: Your timing matters! The faster you mark the behavior and get that reward to the dog, the better. Your reward could be a treat, throwing a ball, a good rub down, etc. Now, this is part of why having a reward marker is so important – it also helps bridge the gap between the dog getting it right and you actually getting the reward to the dog. If you miss marking the behavior by 3-seconds, that is a high margin of error. Count 3 seconds out, it’s longer than you thought, right?

Reward marker: A reward marker is something that lets the dog know it got it right and is going to get paid - it bridges the gap as mentioned above. This gives the dog instant feedback - the faster you mark the desired behavior the better.

Example: This can be the “click” from a clicker or a verbal “yes!”. This can be any word, though I do prefer a clicker when initially teaching a behavior because the sound is always the same and you can click quicker than you can speak. The key is to pick something and stick with it.

Reward delivery: Deliver the reward when the dog is still in the position you cued or wanted. This applies when training most behaviors though there are exceptions.

Example: Let’s say you are teaching a dog to sit on cue. You want to reinforce the dog for its bottom being on the floor. This being the case, you will “click” the moment the dog’s bottom is on the floor and deliver the reward while the dog’s bottom is on the floor – not when the dog is trying to stand up or is actually standing.

*It is beneficial to use an end of behavior marker (see a previous blog post about this) to let the dog know it is done with that cue/behavior for the time being.

Why all of this matters: Why does all this matter? It matters because what you reinforce you will get more of. If you are sloppy and reward the dog for the sit when it is standing, your “sit” behavior will not be as solid.

Example: Let’s take a look a look at teaching the “down” cue. We want the dog to “down”, which simply means the dog’s belly is on the ground. Not only will you need to “click” when the dog’s elbows touch the ground, but you will also need to get that treat to the dog when it is actually in the down position. On top of that, it is wise to teach the dog that just because you stand up fully does not mean that they stand up as well. Perhaps you will drop a few treats in front of the dog once it is in the down position while you stand up, then give your release word. This can be very helpful to avoid having the dog that immediately pops up from a down.

Clear and effective communication is important when it comes to dog training. Have fun with training and apply these tips!

©Kate Godfrey, 2019