Euro Pros K-9 Center
Platform Training for Dogs
(An example of the use of Marker Training to teach "Place")
Any trainer, from basic obedience to hunting and agility, will tell you that consistency is the key to a well-trained dog. Training your dog does not stop when you pick him up from the professional dog trainer. Consistency is essential for your dog retain the commands he has learned. Platform Dog Training helps keep that consistency in training. The use of a Dog Training Platform makes it far easier to continue the dog’s learning and to keep up his “good dog” behavior.
A dog trained through the use of Operant Conditioning (i.e.: Marker Training) can very effectively learn that the Platform is his “Place”, on which good things happen. When your dog has a Platform, it’s like his personal furniture, the “place” where he makes you happy. Your dog will develop a strong positive association with the Platform, and when he’s on it, he’s focused on your commands. This helps dogs concentrate on training, ignore distractions, and avoid unwanted behaviors like begging for scraps or jumping up on visitors.
How to Train Your Dog Using a Platform
It’s important that you know some basic training terms and techniques before you start any training program. Knowing the following will help you and your dog to be successful.
What Motivates Your Dog?
Not all dogs are the same. Your dog may think food treats are worth working for or, perhaps, your dog would do anything to earn a wild game of tug.
Before you begin training your dog, you need to understand what motivates your dog. When you understand what motivates your dog, then you know what reward to use to shape the desired behavior. Dogs that are very motivated by food or toys are easy to train because they will keep trying to get the reward. Pick a reward that your dog can’t get enough of: a ball, small treats, tug toy, or even a chance to run wild and crazy around the yard.
For example: using food as a reward, you may want to see if you can lure your dog around by getting him to follow your hand with your choice of food/treat you will be using. It’s important to make sure that whatever you will be using to reward your dog is something he desires.
Reward Based Marker Training
Reward Based Marker Training is all about working with your dog as a partner. The key to reward based training is to help your dog succeed. The more success they experience, the more successful they will be. Your training success will depend on you building strong, trusting communication with your dog.
Markers will help you be a more efficient trainer. When your dog demonstrates a desired behavior, you will want to let your dog know that what he is doing right this second has won him a reward. Your training will be most effective if you can “mark” a desired behavior with a sound or verbal marker. It’s like taking a picture of the exact behavior you want. We prefer to use a verbal marker. Many trainers use the word “Good” as a verbal Stay In Position Marker which rewards the dog for remaining in that position . . . or they can use “Yes” as a verbal Move Marker which then releases the dog to go get the reward. Using a marker will help your dog associate the behavior he is doing when the verbal marker. You must reward him seconds after you mark the behavior for the desired psychological effect to take place. He will learn to associate the desired behavior with the mark and subsequently move instantly to get the earned reward. He will perform the behavior again, and again, to earn a reward. In a short time, the dog will happily perform the behavior on command (Cue) and the verbal marker will be all the reward he needs as Marker Training impacts the dog psychologically so gradually the marker replaces the need for the reward.
You will want to use a Stay Marker such as “Good” or “Good Dog”. This is a word or phrase the dog will learn to mean: continue the behavior. You’ll be letting him know that he’s doing a good job without coming to you for a treat or play reward.
You may also use a marker to pinpoint unwanted behavior, like getting off the platform before released; we’ll call this a redirection marker. “Phooey” or “No” works for a redirection marker.
The tone and volume you use should be consistent and confident, but not overly forceful. The softer the Commanding Voice you condition your dog to, the less volume you need to communicate. Your dog should be attentive to your voice, you should not have to raise it.
Good dog training comes down to good communication and great timing. Markers will help you with your timing.
Remember, timing is the key when marking a desired behavior. You want to mark the behavior as it is happening. For instance, if your dog gets off the Platform you should be marking the behavior before all 4 paws hit the ground. If the dog is already 10 feet away from the platform, it’s too late. At this point you would walk the dog back and get them back on the Platform and again, marking their behavior once all 4 paws are back on the Platform
Occasionally, you may be asked to “lure” your dog as you train him with the Platform. Luring simply means leading the dog with food or his favorite toy. Your dog follows your hand and where the head goes the body will follow.
Luring is not as effective in shaping the behavior as is using a marker and some dogs will resist following if their human parents have used coaxing with food in the past.
Shaping is doing it one small step at a time.
Now It's Time to Train Your Dog!
The plan is to set up the desired behavior, mark the behavior, and reward the behavior.
Some Tips Before You Start . . .
If you’re using food rewards to motivate your dog, make sure he’s hungry. Plan your training sessions before, not after, his meals. If he normally gobbles his food, you may be able to use his regular kibble as a reward. Depending on how long or how much training you intend to do, the rewards could replace his meal.
Your dog will learn with the most gusto if you are using treats that are very high value. Choose healthy treats that can be cut or broken into very small pieces. Plan to be generous in sharing the treats, one per each “Yes” or “Good” marker.
If using food rewards, practice your delivery method. It’s important to be able to reward your dog in a consistent manner. You may want to wear a pouch or have an easily accessible pocket that you can hold your treats in. Another important feature is how you hold your food in your hand and deliver it. Time and practice will help. Be sure your treat is small. Smaller is better.
Introduce Your Dog to the Platform
He may climb up on it based on pure curiosity with minimal encouragement. If this happens mark and reward the behavior accordingly. This is a great opportunity to catch your dog doing something right and mark and reward the behavior. This will condition your dog to respond to markers and to the Platform. You may be surprised at how much your dog will want to jump up on the Platform; dogs seem to naturally enjoy getting up on things.
If the dog doesn’t jump up on his own, you have a number of choices to help him figure out that being on the Platform is rewarding:
· You can lure him onto the Platform with food or his favorite toy. Be sure to mark and reward him the second he gets on the platform. When all four paws are on the Platform, the marker “Yes” or “Good” will be triggered followed by a reward. The proper timing of the marker is critical for success. Eventually we will define the rules of the Platform which are: stay on until released, and no barking, but for now all we are doing is shaping the behavior.
· If the dog has been scolded in the past for climbing on furniture or his past training has involved coercive or aversive methods he may be afraid to get on the platform. He may also be suspicious of being lured or coaxed. The easiest way to circumvent this training challenge is to lower the height of the Platform and help him to walk across it on the ground, making sure to mark and reward him the second any of his feet are on the platform. Once his whole body is on the platform, ask him to sit and give him rewards for staying there. You can then raise the Platform and he should willingly jump onto it.
The key to successful training is repetition, so you will want to repeat the behavior over and over. It may take several short sessions depending on the dog. Keep it simple and keep it short, this training should be fun for both you and the dog. Always try to end your training session on a positive note.
When your dog completely understands what you are expecting him to do and is completely comfortable on the Platform, you are ready to prompt the dog by saying “Place”. For this example, we will use “Place” for the cue, or command, the word that tells him he’ll be rewarded if he gets up on the Platform. Lure the dog to the platform, mark the behavior, reward the behavior and repeat. This method of training will be used in all new skills you teach your dog and many of them will take place on the Platform. At this stage of the training we should not need to use a reminder marker because we have not let the dog make a mistake.
The Three D's
When your dog understands the “Place” command, you can begin to help him learn to generalize the behavior by adding distance, distraction, and duration. These are often referred as “The Three D’s”.
1. Distance – How far away from the dog you can be and control his behavior.
2. Distractions – How your dog is able to stay on the Platform with distractions.
3. Duration – How long will your dog stay on the Platform.
To work on “The Three D’s” you’ll do your training in small increments, increasing distractions, distance or duration one at a time. Remember, your goal is to help the dog to get the answer right.
As you move into this phase of the training, mistakes become teaching points. When the dog gets off before it is released you need to mark the undesired behavior with a word, could be “Phooey”, “No” or whatever you decide, then lure the dog back onto the platform and mark the desired behavior. You can use the remain in position marker “Good” or “Good Dog” to get your dog to stay on the Platform, this is not a release command, but rather a reminder that he is doing the desired behavior, which is staying on the Platform. It is important NOT to give the Move Marker, “Yes”, if you want the behavior to continue. INSTEAD, use “Good” or “Good Dog”, as the Stay In Position Marker.
Eventually you will be able to use the “Place” command to send your dog to the Platform, when you answer the door, eat dinner with your family, or just visit with some friends; while the dog relaxes on the Platform patiently waiting for your release. Be prepared to reward your dog, timing is important, the sooner you mark the behavior, the easier it is for the dog to understand your expectations.
In summary, to set your dog up for success follow these steps:
1. Introduce your dog to the Platform.
2. Mark the instant all four paws are on the surface “Yes” and reward.
3. Continue to lure your dog to the Platform or wait for him to make a great choice and get onto the Platform without luring.
4. Add a cue “Place” when he has it figured out.
5. Extend the behavior with a “Keep up the Good Work” marker. “Good”, or “Good Dog”.
6. Use the reminder marker, “Phooey” or “No” to correct mistakes.
7. Eventually increase duration, distractions, and distance and always return to the most basic skill as you advance in training.
When your dog is ready, move the Platform to new areas, like the yard, the garage, your office, a friend’s house, and then challenge him by setting up the Platform on the side lines at a soccer game. You will gain a new level of confidence with your dog when you get to the point when they will stay on the Platform in most any situation.