The Use of No Reward Markers in Dog Training
What are No Reward Markers in Dog Training?
In order to understand no reward markers in dog training, we should briefly go over general marker training. What exactly is marker training and how can it benefit your dog? According to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, marker training consists of indicating to the dog the exact moment when he performs the desired behavior. This is often accomplished through the use of a clicker or a verbal marker such as the word "yes!" followed by a food reward. The marker allows us to tell the dog he has done well and forms a brief separation between the performance of the behavior and the food. For this reason, it's often said that marker training allows us to “bridge” a dog’s behavior with a reward. In order to be successful, marker training requires precision because you must be able to mark the exact moment the dog performs the behavior in a split second, if you fail to do that correctly you'll risk rewarding the wrong behavior. In marker training, what you reward is what you ultimately get.
So if a verbal marker or an audible marker such as the sound of the clicker tells a dog he has done correctly and a reward is on its way, a no reward marker does exactly the opposite, it tells a dog that he has not performed as desired and he won't get a reward. It's quite similar to that noise you hear when you are watching Family Feud and the person gets the wrong answer, the noise signals the mistake and tells the player he won't get a chance to earn more money. Common verbal no-reward markers used by trainers and dog owner are "eh-eh!" "oops!" or "try again." NRMs (the abbreviation for no reward marker) though can sometimes be problematic, and this is why more and more trainers aren't much eager of using them. In the next paragraphs we will take a look at some issues with NRM's.
The Problems of Using No Reward Markers in Dog Training
Ideally, a NRM is delivered in a neutral tone of voice. A NRM should not be meant to be a punisher that intimidates the dog and makes him discouraged of further trying. Ideally, it should just be a form of guidance for the dog so to encourage him to keep trying rather than giving up. Yet, not all dogs are created equal. Several dogs will take a no reward marker as a simple piece of information telling him to try again, others may get frustrated, and some more may perceive it as a form of punishment and may get stressed out.
On top of that, it is often difficult for trainers to give up using NRM as it quickly becomes quite a habit and the occasional "eh-eh" may always escape even in the case of dogs who view them as punishment. As humans we have the hard-wired habit to verbalize our thoughts. Many trainers therefore try to train without NRM and opt instead to simply withhold a clicker or a verbal marker when the dog makes a mistake, as Pam in the video below explains not saying anything is still information to the dog and why add more fuel to the fire? With time, the marked desired behavior will increase, whereas the non marked undesired behaviors will extinguish.
An alternative to NRM is errorless training suggested by dog trainer Emily Larlham. Errorless training helps set a dog for success. The advantages of this method are various such as it doesn't inhibit learning, it creates less chances for stress, frustration and aggression and it minimizes the chances for errors. Indeed, if your dog is doing many errors, instead of delivering several NRM, try to stop doing what you are doing and go back to the drawing board to see what changes you can make to help your dog be better set for success.
As Emily Larlham puts it goes a long way, she says QUOTED: "In my opinion only the most talented trainers should implement such a complex method such as No Reward Markers into their training plans, and if the trainer is that talented, then they shouldn't be making that many errors in the first place to need NRMs"
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For further reading
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