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Charging the Mark

October 3, 2013     Ed Frawley

When you start teaching the clicker training system to your dog, show him that every time he hears a clicker, he will receive a high-value treat. This system will always start with food, not toys. Using toys distract the dog so starting out with food is a better way to keep your dog focused.

So our very first step is called Charging the Mark. This can be done absolutely anywhere whether it's your kitchen, basement, or backyard. Your goal is to teach the dog to associate the click with a high-value reward. Whenever he hears that click, he knows he's receiving something he enjoys.

In this stage of Charging the Mark, you need to understand that your dog doesn't have to do anything to get the mark. All you need to do for now is click the clicker and then give the high-value treat. No sitting required, no obedience of command. As the handler, you just CLICK then feed the dog. Do it again and again. 1) CLICK. 2) Feed the dog. 3) Repeat.

In time, your dog will understand its meaning. It will understand the click as "My handler is going to give me a delicious food treat!"

Does this concept sound familiar to you? It's the classical conditioning technique.

There are certain details you need to be very aware of. You should never press the clicker the same time you move your arm to reach for the food treat. For this program to work, there needs to be a small pocket of time between the CLICK and when the arm is moving to get the food reward. This pocket of time is very important. You do not want your dog thinking that he is getting the reward because of your arm reaching out for it. He needs to understand that it is the CLICK giving him the reward, not the way you move your arm.

You will know when your dog starts understanding the mark. He will look at you with an eager expression, "I'm ready for my treat!" Many dogs will understand the CLICK after the first training session. If you consistently charge the mark 30 to 50 times in a row, he will start connecting the dots.