What does the acronym NRM (No Reward Marker) stand for in dog training terminology?

NRM (No Reward Marker) is a word like “bummer” or “oops” or “uh-oh” that informs the dog that she has made an incorrect choice. For instance, if you were teaching your dog a basic command such as “sit/stay” and she got up before you gave her the signal to rise, you’d make some kind of verbal sound to let her know it was wrong.

The word is supposed to be used in a neutral, even somewhat cheerful, sound so as not to be punishing.

There’s a lot of debate about the NRM’s usefulness. Many trainers, especially those who use a positive reinforcement technique such as clicker training, feel that it not only unnecessary but also somewhat punishing—aversive.

For instance, when you are clicker training your dog, the click and reward only happens when the dog completes the command correctly. If there is no click, the dog will know that no reward is coming. So, many ask, do you really need to use another marker to tell her she’s wrong? Isn’t that just reinforcing the negative, by letting her be wrong over and over again? That, they say, will de-motivate the dog and create bad associations with the skill being trained, especially if you have a very sensitive dog or one who always worry that she’s starving.

There is also the argument that, especially if the dog is being clicker-trained which is a yes/no type of event, one has to question why the dog is still getting it wrong—perhaps the cues are unclear and inconsistent, say some.

On the other hand, advocates of NRM it is simply data to inform the learner that she is getting it wrong. To keep the dog guessing, they say, is more stressful in the long-term; with NRM, you’ll eliminate the dog’s frustration by telling her right away how you want her to perform.

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