"Yes is the Key"
One of the core tools used here at the ranch is the Marker System, the use of the word "yes" or "good" to mark a correct behavior, followed by a treat reward in the early stages to create incentive to learn and positive association with the word "yes". Markers allow dogs to understand the precise behavior that we are trying to get them to capture, whether a simple sit, or a find in search and rescue. Over and over again, dogs come into training with vast zones of confusion as to what is expected of them, and what we are really asking them to do.
For each command that we are asking the dog to respond to, there is one moment in time when that command is executed. That is the "yes" moment. In the beginning we deliver a reward right away. Later on, as the dog increases in stability we delay and then diminish the reward, and substitute simple praise with intermittent reward.
By using markers, dogs build from success to success rather than from confusion to confusion, or vague approximation to vague approximation. We want to tell the dog what TO DO, not what NOT TO DO. With rare exceptions NO, is a very useless concept for dogs. No what? No, don't breathe? No, don't stand there? No, don't blink your eyes? No, don't be in that part of the yard? No, what?
In this way, commands become an integral part of a dog's daily language to help them navigate the confusing world of human. Moving from one yes moment to another, dogs build in confidence as they figure out what the heck it is we want from them.
At the ranch, we use a simple three part rhythm to communicate with the dogs. NAME, COMMAND, MARKER. Fluffy, "let's go", "yes". Once owners master the basic timing, we add back in simple praise language. So then the full dance with our dogs becomes: NAME, COMMAND, MARKER........pause, then, and only then, PRAISE LANGUAGE.
Fluffy, "let's go", "yes"............... "atta girl."
Fluffy, "sit", "yes" ............... "good girl".
Your marker word is just like a clicker. In order for it to be meaningful, it needs to happen at the moment in time your dog does the thing you are asking them to do.
The Core Marker Moments:
"Let's Go" - when your dog spins head and shoulders towards you, NOT when they arrive.
"Come" - when we begin, in order to encourage a fast, non-stop come, you can do three, when they start towards you, when they arrive and when they sit. Very quickly within days, just mark the final end of the chain, the sit. Come isn't complete until they arrive in front AND sit.
"Wait" - when motion stops, don't mark Yes, if the dog is still moving.
"Sit" - when the bottom hits the ground - all the way! This can be tough to see with some of the little guys, you might need to touch to make sure the dog is all the way seated.
"Down" - when the whole body hits the ground, not just the chest. There are a million variations on this. Dogs can touch chests down and leave the hind end in the air. They can touch the back end but be in a semi-crouch in front. Front and back must both be down to mark the "yes".
"Heel" - when the dog's shoulder is next to our left knee. Head will be slightly in front, so that depending on the dog's size we could just reach down and pet the head.
"Place" - when all four feet are on the place. Second stage, all four feet and a sit.
It's important in the early stages of practicing your dog's training, that you use this system. Like any learned language dogs don't start out speaking sentences. Just like babies, or we, as adults, learning a foreign tongue, they learn one word at a time - what linguists call holophrases. Resist the urge to babble at your dog. Trust me, your dog will thank you for your clarity. That doesn't mean we can't have foolish intimate moments when we murmer silly nothings at the dog, but if we are trying to get them to accomplish something, keep it simple. A happy, confident, motivated dog will be your reward.
Copyright Ozuna 2001