- Dogs will sometimes, without prompting or coaching, do some behaviors spontaneously or on their own. In marker training, we can capture these spontaneously offered behaviors, and reinforce them – that is, we reward them often so that the dog is encouraged to repeat them more and more.
- To capture a behavior, say the marker word, in our case “YES” at the exact moment when the dog spontaneously offers it, then immediately follow your marker word with a treat to reinforce the behavior.
- This first exercise for capturing the behavior of Attention will demonstrate more clearly how this is done.
- The Light Bulb or “Aha!” Moment is when your dog – after several reps, or sometimes, after several sessions – recognizes which of his behaviors or actions causes you to say the magic “Yes!” word which is immediately followed by a treat. At this point, if your dog is properly motivated, you will notice him performing the behavior faster, rep after rep because he is now sure about what he needs to do to get his reward.
Prompts and Prompting
- Sometimes a dog does not offer a behavior spontaneously or voluntarily, so we have to use things like a prompt or a lure to make a desired behavior happen.
- Prompts are either equipment or actions we use to help us get the desired behavior out of the dog we are training.
- Prompts should be faded quickly so that you don’t become dependent on them for the behavior to happen.
Lures and Luring
- A lure is a training treat that we use to guide the dog into certain positions.
- Lures should be used sparingly, and only if shaping, capturing or prompting methods do not work. As with prompts, they should be faded quickly as soon as your dog is performing the desired behavior.
- Proper timing is important when teaching new behaviors.
- You must MARK the exact moment when a behavior happens.
- Avoid marking before or after the behavior has happened, or else you might unintentionally reinforce undesirable or poor performance of behaviors. You will see examples of good and bad timing as we go on.
- Deliver your treats AFTER you mark a behavior. A few seconds of delay in delivering the treat is fine. It’s more important that you have marked the behavior first.
- More than a few seconds of delay in delivering the treat may result in the behavior not becoming reinforced or it may cause your dog’s attention to drift.
- WHERE you place or deliver your treats is also important. Poor treat placement can cause the dog to break or come out of a position or end a behavior prematurely before you release him/her from it.
The exercise can be done on or off leash. If off leash, make sure your dog cannot suddenly run off or randomly interact with things in the environment while you are training. If on leash, pick a spot to stand on to serve as your center. If your dog moves around you just turn with him so the leash doesn’t wrap around your legs. Avoid jerking on the leash to get the dog’s attention. Anchor your leash hand against your abdomen so you are not tempted to jerk on the leash when your dog turns away from you. Instead, use prompting noises to get the attention back. Don’t let your dog pull you off your center spot.
TECHNIQUE 1: Capturing Offered Behavior
- Quietly stand in front of your dog and wait until your dog looks up in the direction of your face. DO NOT call his name or force him to look at you in any way. Be patient and just wait.
- Say “Yes” the instance your dog looks up at you and makes eye contact. Deliver a treat to your dog’s mouth. Or you may also drop the treat somewhere on the floor where your dog can see and get it.
- Repeat this up to 10 times in a session.
TECHNIQUE 2: Prompting the Behavior
- If it takes a while for your dog to offer eye contact, you can speed up the process by using prompts. Prompts are noises that you make (example: kissy noises, clucking with your tongue or whistling) to get your dog’s attention. With your dog in front of you, make a prompting noise to get your dog’s attention. Do not use the dog’s name for now.
- Say “Yes” in the instance your dog makes eye contact. Immediately deliver a treat to your dog’s mouth. Or you may also drop the treat somewhere on the floor where your dog can see and get it.
- Repeat this up to 10 times in a session.
In a session, you can switch back and forth between Technique 1 and 2.
Calling the Dog’s name over and over
- If your dog is somewhat distracted and does not choose to look at you, avoid calling his name over and over in hopes of getting his attention. If you repeat the name over and over without producing the desired response of looking at you, you may end up teaching your dog to always do a no-response or slow response to hearing his/her name being called. Per rep, you may call the dog’s name ONCE. If he/she doesn’t look towards you, follow up with prompting noises instead until you get the desired response.
Improper treat delivery and treat placement
- Make sure that as soon as you mark the behavior of eye contact, you are ready to deliver a treat.
- Any long delays can cause a break in the flow of training and may cause your dog’s attention to drift.
Moving your face into your dog’s line of sight
- Don’t be tempted to chase after your dog’s eye contact by bending down and moving your face into his/her line of sight.
- Your dog should be the one to offer the behavior.
Do you have questions or problems with this exercise? Email Doc Marose for some advice.
You may proceed to Attention – Part 2: Putting Behavior On Cue only if your dog is offering eye contact quickly, one repetition after another during a session.