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Dog training 101: Continuation marker vs terminal marker

When training a dog it's very common for people to see their dog ending an exercise because they wanted to tell them they were doing a great job. Examples of this could be when training a stay, you want to mark your dog's behavior before returning to them, but upon the marker, your dog jumps up and runs up to you to claim their reward.

Or when teaching your dog to heel, they advance right after claiming their reward.

In this blog I'll go over the difference between the continuation marker and the terminal marker, which, when used properly, can be of aid in these situations. A marker is a cue you give your dog to let them know they perform a wanted behavior. In order to pinpoint this moment in time, even while not able to reward your dog with a treat or a play session immediately, you cue them with a marker, which, if taught well, will provide your dog with the right feedback.

What is the difference?

First off, I want to make sure the difference between the continuation marker and the terminal marker is clear to you.

A terminal marker tells your dog you like the behavior, he performed well and the exercise is finished. This also means your dog is now allowed to leave his position.

The continuation marker on the other hand tells your dog he is performing great and should continue doing so since the exercise isn't finished yet.

By using these two types of markers, it will become a lot easier to train your dog. One of the main things you'll notice is that teaching your dog to stay, might become a lot easier. When asking your dog to get into a certain position, the stay will become obvious until the terminal marker is given, essentially eliminating the need to use the 'stay' command.

Now we got that out of the way, let's teach you and your dog how to use the different markers.

We'll start off with the terminal marker.

When training young dogs and puppies, it is often most interesting to use the terminal marker more often in comparison to the continuation marker. This will teach your dog that the faster they perform the wanted behavior, the faster they get released from their position. This might speed up your training by making it more fun.

In many cases the terminal marker is a cue like: 'Good job', or 'Okay', or 'Free'. Of course you are free to use a marker that feels comfortable with you.

This type of training will motivate your dog to perform since training like this will be fun for your dog. As I mentioned in my video about the basic principles of dog training: motivation is one of the most important things to keep in mind when training your dog.

Another reason to start by using the terminal marker when training a puppy is because the puppy might not be ready yet to 'stay' for longer periods of time. In many of my videos I tell you to set your dog up for success, the same goes in this situation. If you would start training a puppy by using a continuation marker, your puppy might have a hard time learning because they get excited and jump up after hearing your voice. So moving onto the continuation marker once your puppy or dog gets the hang of the basic commands is the better tactic.

If however you are working with a very amped up puppy or dog, using the continuation marker might help teaching them to wait and hold their position. As I said before, this is basically an implied stay. Once you provide your dog with a command, they should hold that position until released with either a new cue or a terminal marker.

This also teaching your dog having some patience while still being able to tell them they are doing a great job.

The most used examples of a continuation marker are: 'Yes' or 'good, good, good'. One of the reasons these are used is because you can say them multiple times to keep providing your dog with feedback on their behavior.

One important note to keep in mind is that if you provide your dog with a marker on a behavior they perform without you providing them with a cue, like settling down at a friends place or while eating, your dog is not in a stay position. Only when you provide them with a command like a sit or down, they should automatically be in a stay position.

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