What does event marker mean in clicker training dogs?

Say you’re training your dog in the sit command. The minute her butt hits the ground, you’ll identify, and mark the behavior, with a clicker or some other noisemaker—and then immediately follow it with a treat.

The food is called the “primary reinforcer” because the dog will do anything to get it. However, the clicker, the marker, is called the “secondary reinforcer,” because, in effect, it’s saying to the dog, “good job! Now you get a reward”—and the dog knows that sound means a treat is coming. On the other hand, the dog will quickly learn that no sound means no treat is coming.

The theory of operant conditioning says that reinforced (rewarded) behaviors are more likely to be repeated behaviors.

The thing that all owners and trainers need to remember is the importance of timing, especially when it comes to the marker. If you mark the event too quickly or slowly, then the learning experience becomes useless. Using the sit position—if you click before your dog’s butt actually hits the ground, she won’t learn the command properly. If you click, but wait too long to provide the treat, the marker will be meaningless.

While an event marker can be either the clicker or a verbal marker, Professional Dog Trainer Lisa Hartman uses mainly verbal markers, but not because she thinks it’s better than a clicker she adds quickly.

“I love both, but the clickers can cause a distraction—a lot of my clients have kids, who want to play with it,” she says. “I also find a lot of people “poison” the clicker and confuse the issue by clicking and shouting a negative such as “no” at the same time. Clickers are supposed to be positive. Finally, we need to give dogs much more credit. When I was Director of Training at an animal shelter, one of the first things they said to me was, ‘oh, that’ll confuse the dog. ‘No, the dog doesn’t get confused because, however the event is marked, they’ll know a treat is coming—and that’s the reward.”

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