Marker Wars: 3 Clickers and My Voice Compete For Wally's Mind | Exploits of an Amateur Dog Trainer: Blog Edition

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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Marker Wars: 3 Clickers and My Voice Compete For Wally's Mind

Ah, markers. Something so useful to dog training. Quick definition, a "marker" is a stimulus (i.e. an event) that indicates that the dog will get a reward (or punishment). The biggest strength and convenience to markers is that the dog's mind will remember what triggered the marker's occurrence, even if the reward is somewhat delayed in arrival. For example, if you give a click while the dog is 20 feet from you, whatever he was doing when he hears the click will be remembered, even though it will take time for him to come that distance (or you to him) to deliver the actual consequence.

Markers have to be taught, but that's not hard if you're even somewhat consistent and diligent, and are very powerful. I'd never train without them.

Now what's this about Marker Wars?

Well, I'm doing a little "experiment" to see which marker sticks well in Wally's mind. This first "round" was as follows:

The Players: Wally
The Markers: Old Petco box clicker, StarMark clicker, i-Click clicker, my voice.

The Task: I set up three cones, all the same color, shape, size, and distance away from him. I marked when he touched one. That was be the "point". Whenever he did that behavior to that cone, he gained a "point" (and a bread ball as treat). After 20 attempts, there was a 5-minute break and the cones were gone. There was no other interaction with me during the break (I completely left the area).

When it was time to resume, I repeated the same thing for 20 more attempts, and so on until all four markers were tested.

Order: Since my voice and the StarMark clicker are likely most familiar to him, they were saved for last with voice being absolutely last.

Results:
The Petco clicker was by far the worst. My timing with it was not as sharp (since it is harder to push down, it might actually take split-second longer and the behavior might be gone by then) and it clearly interfered with his figuring out what to do. Of the 20, he got 9 points. Nine.

The StarMark clicker was the best for this, though it was close. With the i-Click, he got 15 points. My voice got him 16 and the StarMark clicker got 17, so it won by just 2 points over the third place total.  It looks like as far as clickers go, the button clickers were indeed a major improvement in both my timing and his understanding. I am surprised that the i-Click came in so well, not because I think it sucks, but because in "normal" use, he seems less...aware I guess that he got clicked. With the StarMark clicker, he's nearly giving himself whiplash, and same with my voice. Yet, he obviously was picking up something because the performance shows he was pretty much the same.

It was an interesting little "experiment". I know it wasn't scientific and probably not run optimally, but I wasn't exactly trying to split atoms here!

Maybe next I'll try it on the colors. Teach one color with the StarMark clicker and another with the i-Click clicker then see which color he gets more reliably. Though, that would have a ton of other factors involved, probably.

Wally says: Do this again. I get mucho bread balls out of it!