Trainer’s Corner: Cues and Markers

It happened again the other day, something I see a lot. A new client was showing me how he gets his dog to do different behaviors. As soon as his dog would sit, for example, he would repeat, ‘Good sit. Good sit. Good sit.’ As he was delivering treats. 

Was that helping his dog to understand that the word ‘Sit’ means to put your rear end on the ground pronto? 

Maybe. Probably not the most effective use of that word ‘sit’ though. And actually, probably, it really was of no help at all in teaching the behavior. 

I understand the logic of people who are not trainers. They want their pet to know their pet just did a good thing sitting or doing whatever other behavior. 

However, what they don’t realize is that there really is no need to repeat the word SIT, since after all, the dog is already doing the behavior. That word SIT is called a cue. It is a setting event that happens just before the behavior and serves as a sort of green light. When that light turns green, IF the dog puts his rear end on the ground THEN a valued consequence occurs after. 

To learn this lesson, your dog needs clear information from you. Clarity involves numerous things— among them is the timing of the consequence and building an association between the behavior and that consequence. In other words, building a reinforcement history. 

The sooner the consequence occurs after a behavior, the sooner that student can learn that cause and effect. It is one of the many benefits of using a marker in training. A marker is a signal (often verbal) that tells your learner, ‘Yep, at that moment, you DID what I want you to do, and NOW something awesome is going to follow.’ That marker should then be easily identifiable. A click or the words Yes, Click, or Good are examples. 

While Good Sit does come after the behavior occurs, it involves a cue that is the signal for the dog to do the behavior. Can you see how that can lower your clarity in teaching? There really is no need to re-cue your dog. 

You can, however, have fun coming up with simple, easy-to-say, and remember, catchy markers to use. You can even use a marker that cues another behavior. As an example, when a dog sits, I could say something like, ‘Take’ and that means to get a treat from my treat hand that I am pulling back. Keep in mind that that would need to be taught in advance of using it to mark behavior. 

No matter what…enjoy the process!

Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBC, is a certified dog trainer (and certified parrot behavior consultant) with So Much PETential who uses and teaches the most positive strategies for changing pet behaviors. She offers individualized dog and puppy training for manners and problem issues. Learn more about her at

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