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A Positive Marker is an excellent tool for communication. Pinpointing and isolating the action that is to be reinforced gives us a tremendous boost in understanding and dramatically speeds up the learning process. The positive marker is used to communicate the exact moment that a behavior was correct.
Take a sit for instance, as many people teach it:
Call the dog, “Spot!” …Cue and lure the sit,”Sit.”
Dog moves forward, stops, squats, butt hits the floor, and looks at the cookie (if we’re lucky, looks at his handler…)
“Good boy,” and Spot gets a cookie.
Well, what part of that process actually earned the cookie? We don’t know. Only Spot knows. Was it the walking forward? Stopping? Squatting? Butt hitting the floor? Looking at the cookie or the handler? It’s about a 2 second long chain of behaviors that lead to that consequence.
By inserting a positive marker at the exact moment Spot’s butt hits the floor – Yes! – we can isolate the correct piece of behavior (but hitting ground) in that 2 second chain to within about 1/8th of a second.
This kind of precision is necessary to communicate with a dog that’s excited and bouncing around. You know, like a disc dog.
A positive marker allows us to take a reactive, explosively barking dog, mark the moment of quiet and reinforce the stoppage of barking. The dog and handler both understand that it was the cessation of barking that was reinforced.
In terms of the game of disc, many things can and do happen in the span of one second. Having the ability to draw attention to good behavior with pinpoint accuracy and precision is the difference between a trick taking two months to learn or two minutes.
Yes! Like a Clicker…
The positive marker that we use at Pawsitive Vybe is a verbal ,”Yes!”. At the exact moment that our dog is correct – be it catch, drop, silence, standing still, whatever – if we like it and want to see it again we draw attention to it by speaking a crisp “Yes!” and reinforcing the awesome behavior with something the dog values.
A positive mark is only as good as the consequence that follows it and it must be maintained and tuned. Many people believe that once the marker is conditioned that the marker holds all the value. It does not.
A marker is a secondary reinforcer, or more precisely, a conditioned reinforcer that earns it’s power from the primary reinforcement it’s paired with. In the normal dog training world, it’s often food, but in the game of disc we’re pairing it with play – biting, running, chasing and more play.