Updated: Nov 23, 2019
It's been almost a decade since I first heard of the idea of using different marker words to tell the dog but the idea is finally starting to take the dog world by storm thanks to several amazing trainers! Shade Whitesel has personally been chipping away at the FDSA student base a little at a time! In my last 2 sessions at FDSA I've found that more and more students are coming into class with having several marker training cues!
What are Marker Cues?
The marker most of us are familiar with is a clicker. You use the clicker to pinpoint the exact time a dog earned a reward. Every time you click, you also follow it up with a reward, usually at treat. Clickers are extremely powerful when a dog is first learning a new behavior due it's unique sound that stands out from other other cues!
We can also use verbal cues that can act in place of the clicker. Just like the clicker, all marker cues tell the dog (or have potential to tell the dog) the following information:
1) WHEN they earned a reward! The instant you give a marker cue like "Yes" or "Get it," you've told the dog the behavior they were just doing earned them a reward. You don't need to click and then give your verbal mark, use the verbal mark in its place!
2) WHERE to get that reward. This is a piece of information the clicker doesn't typically give. Should they come to you? Get ready to run ahead to chase something? Turn around and grab the reward on the ground behind them? Each marker serves as a CUE to tell the dog what to do to collect that reward.
3) What TYPE of reward they earned. Food vs toys, or even tug vs fetch are the usual rewards we tend to use in training sessions. You can tell the dog what reward they are going to get well before they even see it! This can help prevent frustration and disappointment if the dog runs to you expecting one reward and instead you offer a different one! And for those of you who have ever had their fingers chomped by a dog expecting you to bring their tug out of your pocket but instead you present food, wouldn't it be nice to have your dog already in the right frame of mind?!
I know some of you are thinking how complicated training can quickly get for the human remembering all the potential marker cues! Just like training your dog, you should break things down, work on just one new cue at a time. You can also focus on only the first 2 areas, the WHEN and WHERE. Later you can decide to separate food/toys if you're liking the clarity you're seeing in your dog.
What is a Room Service Marker?
Like other markers, a room service marker cue (Thanks Hannah Branigan for that term!) tells the dog when they earned a reward and where it's going to be delivered. However it's the odd relative of the marker family in that this cue tells the dog to wait where they are while the reward is delivered to them.
Most of our markers are release cues as they tell the dog to move, but in this specific case the reward cue does completely end the behavior the dog was doing. I want the dog to continue sitting, lying down, or standing after I let them know the reward is coming to them.
The most common use for this type of reward delivery cue is when working on duration based behaviors at a distance. Many dogs will develop the habit of moving a foot, or several, in anticipation of the reward being delivered. Having a clear expectation of the reward delivery can go a long way in helping to prevent bad habits from forming!
I personally use my room service marker cue, "Bingo," frequently when training go outs. I want my dog expecting to wait at the stanchion instead of getting ready to run back to me. This can help prevent the common problem of the dog turning and moving towards the handler before doing their cued sit.
I also may use my room service reward cue when practicing position changes and the drop on recall. In agility you could use the marker cue to reward your startline or stopped contacts.
Teaching a Room Service Cue
In order to start teaching this marker cue, your dog should already have a concept of duration in at least one position. For most dogs you will start this new cue with your dog in a sit position. You can have them on a platform or even in a crate if that helps your dog remain in place.
It will also help if your dog has some understanding of resisting cookies held in your hand. Think basic doggy zen games.
Step 1: No Distance, Using the Cue
Start directly in front of the dog, give your new cue, and then feed! Make sure you give your room service marker cue BEFORE you move your cookie hand.
Here is Vito's very first lesson learning a new marker cue, Bingo. I have treats held out in my hand, wait for eye contact, and then cue Bingo as I move to hand him a treat. I am right in front of him to prevent him from thinking about getting up, however you will notice that he is very twitchy in expecting to get to dive for the reward himself! I ignore this for now and focus on rewarding him away from the hand. If you watch closely, you will see that the reps where I say Bingo before my hand is on the cookie are the reps he moves. If I already have my hand on the cookie, say Bingo, and then start to move it towards his mouth he stays:
Keep working this skill from a sit, down, and stand. Remember you can use a platform or target to help keep your dog in place!
Step 2: Adding Distance
At this next step I start to stand slightly away from the dog. The dog can be on a target of some sort to help them stay still if need be.
Step away from the dog (cue wait or stay if you need to) and pause. Then use your room service cue before you start motion back to the dog. Remember, you want the dog to pay attention to this verbal cue predicting the food delivery, not your motion back being the predictor, and not the motion of your hand reaching for the cookie.
Pause. Give Marker cue. THEN move back to the dog.
Here is Zumi's early lesson in using my new Bingo cue. She previously had learned this concept with another verbal cue but I wanted to change the verbal. You can see at this step I'm also using my wait hand signal of my pointer finger to help remind her to remain in place: