Clicker Vs. Verbal Marker: What Trains Dogs Better?


In the dog training world, there have always been debates on what dog training method is the best. One of the most popular ones is the clicker versus verbal marker. Both are great, but you cannot use them at the same time. You only have to choose one.

The clicker method and verbal marker method both have advantages and disadvantages. However, no matter what tool you use, it is far more important to determine if the conditioning is done correctly. These tools are often used as conditioned reinforcers. A conditioned reinforcer is usually paired repeatedly with a primary reinforcer.

For instance, the word “yes!” or a clicker become conditioned reinforcers when they are being paired with treats through repeated trials (yes-treat or click-treat). There is no exact number of trials needed because it varies from dog to dog. It will also depend on the primary reinforcer’s value, the timing, and presentation of “secondary reinforcer-primary reinforcer,” and the environment where the training is being done.

If you want to know which is better, it will depend on the trainer and the dog. Do what you are most comfortable with, whether it’s a verbal marker or a clicker. The dog will adapt to your training style. You just have to be consistent

The Clicker

The clicker is a small and handheld device that produces a “click” sound that replaces a marker word like “yes.” It is typically used in positive-reinforcement training where the dog is rewarded for good behaviors with something that they find motivating and enjoyable such as treats.

Clicker provides a sharp, neutral sound that does not elicit an emotional response. It is also preferred for more complicated tricks

If you are a newbie in dog training, the thought of using a clicker can be overwhelming. It is hard to imagine using the device with the extra stuff that you have to think about when you are training your dog. The clicker is actually easy and simple to use; however, practice can really help. You still have to put some effort into developing your mechanics before you introduce the clicker in your training.

How to Practice for Clicker Training

You can begin by holding the clicker and using the finger on the same hand, you can press the button. Do this so you can get the feel of clicking the clicker. The most crucial part that you should practice is timing.

You can practice timing while you are watching TV. Try clicking whenever you see a particular actor appear on the screen, or every time a specific word is said. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can move on to the dog training. You can begin clicking whenever your dog looks at you. You can follow the click with a treat reward. This is how it should go:

  • Your dog looks at you (either because you have gotten their attention or on their own)
  • Click the clicker the exact moment your dog looks at you
  • Follow the click with a treat immediately

You can repeat it several times a day until you have gotten the hang of giving the reward. This will also show your dog that the click is something positive and meaningful.

How to Capture and Shape Behavior with a Clicker

When we say capturing a behavior, it means informing the dog that they have done something naturally that is great. For instance, if you click and give reward to your dog every time you see them in the act of lying down on their bed, your dog will learn that you like it whenever they lie down on their bed. They will do the behavior more if you click and reward them more.

When we say shaping your dog, you click and give rewards for minor or small movements that accumulate to a larger goal. You can begin by deciding what your big goal is. For instance, getting your dog to do what you want without signaling them to do so.

Training with a Clicker

You can use the clicker for any type of training that includes operant conditioning (learning by consequence) or classical conditioning (learning by association). However, the clicker cannot be used for traditional training that uses methods that frighten, intimidate, or cause pain. Clickers are not used in correcting a dog; they are used for marking favorable behaviors.

For instance, you want to fix your dog’s jumping on people. You can’t use the clicker to correct the behavior; instead, you can mark and reward when your dog makes a different choice that is more favorable than their problem behavior,

Useful Tips for a Successful Clicker Training

  • You can use a treat pouch or a bait bag to carry your dog’s food rewards. Having the bag will allow your two hands to be free and keeps the treats close to you.
  • You can get a clicker that comes in a wristband so you won’t lose it. You don’t have to put it somewhere when you need your hands to do something else.
  • Don’t use the clicker like a remote control. It doesn’t signal your dog to do something. Keep in mind that the clicker is used to mark the moment the dog has done good and something worth rewarding.
  • Training sessions should be kept short. 3 to 10 minutes a session is enough.

Pros and Cons of Clicker Training

Pros

  • The trainer can do many repetitions of the same behavior without the dog losing their interest in affecting their motivation.
  • The dog is working in a very rewarding atmosphere and encourages them to try and explore new things.
  • Reward-based training programs can have longer sessions than those that aren’t reward-based.
  • It is believed to be one of the best training concepts to establish a great relationship between the handler and the dog.
  • The dog learns quickly because the clicker allows for perfect timing. This explains to the dog in black and white, and for what specific behavior they are rewarded for.
  • The training method can be used in any environment. You can do clicker training while you’re sitting down, moving around the house, or standing up.
  • With clicker training, there’s no delay in the reward. Dogs receive an immediate reward after every good behavior when you use a clicker. Your dog will immediately understand that they did something correctly and it will reinforce their good behavior. The instant gratification is a useful motivational tool for dogs. Dogs really love to please their owners.
  • You can eliminate any unintended misinterpretations of the tone of your voice. Using a clicker will reduce the variations that your dog will pick up when using a verbal marker.
  • Your dog can be trained by more than one trainer. The dog responds to the click, and anyone with the clicker can produce that sound. If you are busy, you can hire another trainer for your dog. As long as the action of receiving the click is consistent, the dog won’t be confused.

Cons

  • It may not be effective for a dog that has a low toy or food drive, and there isn’t anything valuable enough to utilize as a reward. You may have a hard time training the dog with the clicker method.
  • If the clicker training is not correctly done, especially when it comes to the development from continuous to variable to random reinforcement, learned behaviors may be easily forgotten.
  • The trainer has to have great eye-hand coordination and its something that should be practiced.
  • Some dogs don’t respond that well to the clicker sound. There are dogs that don’t like the sound of the clicker at all. You can try to hold the clicker behind your back or by your side to try to avoid this disadvantage. There are softer clickers available, as well.
  • There should be precision with this training method at all times. This is because you’re working to establish a positive sound association with something your dog will truly love, like a treat. You only have to use the clicker when your dog does what they’re supposed to. Be careful with accidental clicks, for they will associate a particular behavior to something positive, and it can be hard to adjust.
  • Your dog has to have a high drive for the reward for a clicker method to be effective. They need to have a high drive for a treat or a toy to encourage behavioral change.
  • The behaviors learned through clicker training are more likely to be forgotten. This is true when your clicker training is not correctly completed, especially when you transition to the treat-giving stage.
  • Advanced exercises and commands require an excellent timer. If you are teaching basic commands such as sit or stay, you can get away with clicks that are not perfect. However, when you are doing more advanced exercises, commands or behaviors, your hand-eye coordination should be precise for the clicker training to be effective.
  • Dog clicker training can have conditioning problems. Dogs can become conditioned to the sound of a clicker. They will refuse to follow a command until they hear the click sound that is associated with the reward.
  • It can become an inconvenient training method at times. This is especially true when you are working with a large dog – you have to hold the treats, the leash, and the clicker at the same time. The clicker will take up one hand because you have to click whenever you see your dog’s desirable behavior. The multitasking can unintentionally set your training back.

Verbal Marker

Relationship is a huge part of training dogs, and a verbal marker elicits a lot of excitement and energy. A verbal marker is more personal as well. When you use a verbal marker, you won’t need other tools, such as a clicker. Your voice is your number one training tool. Timing is also important in verbal marker training.

A marker in dog training is also known as bridging stimulus. The operant conditioning must be within one second of the action, but with the use of a marker, it can be extended for a little bit.

Types of Markers

  • Terminal Marker

It is also known as the event marker. It communicates to the dog that they have done what you wanted them to do. This type of marker can be conditioned over time to become secondary reinforcers. You can use the word “Yes!” for this.

  • Intermediate Marker

This is also known as the support bridge. It communicates to the dog to keep going. It lets the dog know that they are doing great, but they are not entirely done yet. You can use the word “good” for this.

  • No-Reward Marker

This communicates to the dog to try again. Keep in mind that this is not a correction or a reprimand. It is merely feedback or information. The tone here should be neutral. You can use the word “nope” for this. Remember not to use this too much, for it can impede learning. It can flatten out the learning curve and discourage the dog from trying.

  • Release Word

The release word is a signal that your dog is done working. You can use the words “Done,” “OK,” or “Free.”

Key Characteristics of Verbal Markers

According to Dr. Ian Dunbar, a world-renowned trainer, veterinarian, and behaviorist, the feedback you give your dog should be these three things:

  • Ongoing
  • Binary
  • Analog

Your feedback has to be a continuous or running commentary on your dog’s performance. Most owners fail to do this. They take the good for granted, then moan and piss about the bad, so the dog is confused about what they are supposed to be doing. Our feedback should also communicate what your dog has done correctly as much as what they have done incorrectly, and it should be representative. The feedback should be analogous to your dog’s performance and effort. Great effort will get excellent feedback, a mediocre effort will get lukewarm feedback, and poor effort will get a suitable response that is based on what the dog is doing at that moment.

We tend to be conversational with our dogs. Although they cannot process language, they can get the gist of what we are trying to say through our volume, tone, and body language. What they can do is memorize the meanings of specific chains of sounds (words and phrases).

Teaching Your Dog What Marker Word Means

  • Say the word, then give your dog a treat immediately.
  • Repeat when the dog is lying down.
  • Repeat when the dog is sitting.
  • Repeat when the dog is chasing looking the other way.
  • Repeat when the dog least expects it.
  • Do it 10 to 15 times every training session for a few days.
  • You can use some kibble from their dinner and breakfast to do just a few rounds.
  • You have reached your goal when your dog gets excited when they hear the marker word and before you hand them a treat.

Tips in Verbal Marker Training

  • Requests must be made volume and tone neutral.
  • Your terminal marker should only be used once time. Do not get too excited and say, “Yes, yes, yes!” it will definitely confuse your dog.
  • After your terminal marker, you can say whatever you want. You can say “Very nice,” “Good dog,” or “You rock!”
  • The intermediate marker is fluid and adaptable based on how and what you are working. Examples are “Good,” “Good job,” “Good boy,” etc. as long as the dog hears “Good,” it’s totally fine.
  • Customize your energy. Your training style and energy should be customized to your dog. This is where temperament plays a big role. For instance, adolescent dogs will get too stimulated when you are too enthusiastic with them. They might need a calm, nice tone. With dogs that have low confidence or drive, you have to be exuberant. You have to be their cheerleader. Your training energy should be suitable for your dog. Consider their temperament, drive, and skill level.

Pros and Cons of Verbal Markers

Pros

  • Dogs are predisposed to respond well to a high-pitched and happy sounding voice because it mimics the whine that a dog mother makes with her puppies to reward them for correct behaviors.
  • We always have our voices with us. With clickers, sometimes you forget to bring them.
  • The time it takes to say “Good Dog!” frequently overlaps the desired behavior, so the timing issue is less of a concern.

Cons

  • Saying the verbal marker in a different tone can confuse your dog. You have to always use the same tone for your markers, and it can be challenging to use the same tone consistently.
  • When you have a deep voice, it could be hard for you to say the verbal marker in a high-pitched voice.
  • There is a high possibility that your marker words can be used in daily conversations at home, and it can confuse your dog.

Final Thoughts

Both have their respective benefits and disadvantages. Eventually, it comes down as a matter of preference. In both cases, timing is essential, and both will work well when they are done right.

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