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For someone that has been competing and teaching obedience for as many decades as I have, “making obedience fun” has been an ongoing process, a transformation over time.

As a child, dog training was nothing more than jerking on a dog’s collar for every mistake, and it was not fun-- for human or dog. Discovering that dogs could learn by being shown how to do things, without correction made training more fun.

The next transition occurred with the use of food and toys to make obedience fun. We talked of playing and working as two separate activities. We played with the dog before, during, or after each training session. That made training more fun, but it was still not enough.

Training became truly fun when I learned how to effectively use a reward marker.
A “reward marker” is a sound or word that predicts for the dog that reward is coming. He connects the reward with his behavior. The reward can be food, a toy, or game. Reward markers are also known as “conditioned reinforcers.”

When a reward marker is used correctly, play and work cease to be separate activities the dog performs to gain access to reward.

What is the most meaningful reward for your dog? Perhaps you have several, such as a variety of treats, throwing a ball, or playing tug-o-war. Any of these things can occur following your reward marker.


I would like to give you the following assignment. Video your training session and practice using your reward marker.

When you review your video, watch for these common mistakes:
  • When you use your verbal marker, you should not say anything else. For example, when the dog sits in front of you, and you “mark” it, with a “yes,” that is the only thing you should say. You should not pair it with, “good boy” or “that was better!” The same is true when using a clicker. Do not click and then offer verbal praise too.
  • Do not reach for your food or toy reward until after giving your reward marker. Watch your video to determine whether your dog hears your verbal marker, before he sees you reach for the reward. If you reach too soon, your dog will start watching your hands and connect the wrong behavior with reward.
Let’s get these two fundamentals correct, then we can talk more about the benefits of using a reward marker!


Get your future competitive obedience dog off to a good start! Don’t wait to join the Mastermind Coaching Group for New Obedience Dogs - Enrollment is open until October 22nd and will be limited! Click here to enroll or read more about this group.

Click here to enroll or read more about this group.