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The Use of No Reward Markers in Dog Training

Updated on February 16, 2018
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Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

The use of no reward markers in dog training
The use of no reward markers in dog training | Source

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 your 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. Optimal timing is needed, but if you're good at it, you can get cutting-edge results.

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 the quintessential "eh-eh!" or "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 no reward markers in dog training.

"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"

— Emily Larlham

The Problems of Using No Reward Markers in Dog Training

Ideally, a no reward marker is delivered in a neutral tone of voice. A no reward marker 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 and possibly shut down.

On top of that, it is often difficult for trainers to give up using no reward markers as it quickly becomes quite a habit and the occasional "eh-eh" may always escape even in the case of dogs who respond poorly to them and view them as punishment.

As humans we have the hard-wired habit to verbalize our thoughts. Many trainers therefore try to train without no reward markers and opt instead to simply withhold a clicker or a verbal marker when the dog makes a mistake, after all, not saying anything is still perceived as information to the dog so why make matters worse? With time, the marked desired behavior will increase, whereas the non marked undesired behaviors will extinguish.

An alternative to no reward markers 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 making many errors, instead of delivering several no reward markers, 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.

A Personal Example: A No Reward Marker Interfering with a Dog's Stay

A problem I encountered one time involved a client who used a no reward marker for when her dog kept breaking a stay. Her dog apparently perceived it a bit harsh (or perhaps very harsh). This ended up interfering with the release cue the owner used to inform her dog that the exercise was over and the dog was free again to move about. again.

The dog in this case didn't get up because he was perhaps a bit frozen is a state of uncertainty or maybe a case of learned helplessness. It was almost as if her dog was uncertain and nervously pleading "Am I OK to go, are you suuuure? Last time I got up you made that "hehe" sound of disapproval that startled me quite a bit! Tell me that won't happen again "

In many cases, an abrupt "eh-eh" may lead to dogs who are confused rather than happy, active learners. This because the "eh-eh" feels like punishment and the act of getting up from the stay therefore assumes negative connotations causing the dog to be intimidated from being released.

Do you use no reward markers when training your dog?

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© 2013 Adrienne Janet Farricelli

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    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      Yes, setting up for success is goal, thanks for stopping by!

    • grejotte profile image

      Anne-Marie 4 years ago from Montreal

      I was thought that it was best not to use them. I wasn't sure why though, but you explained it very well! Now I know :p

      My teacher told us that the animal should succeed 80% of the time, or they will lose the interest. We have to set them to success. :)

      Great hub!

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 4 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Never heard of this before. Thanks for your ever enlightening dog hubs!

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