Training a New Trick Using No-Reward Markers: Effects on Dogs’ Performance and Stress Behaviors

Naomi Rotenberg CUNY Hunter College

The overall goal of modern dog training is to induce the greatest behavioral change with the least amount of undue stress to the canine learner. The possible advantages and potential pitfalls of using no-reward markers (NRMs) in dog training have been debated by scientists and trainers, but no empirical studies have been undertaken. In the current study, 27 dogs were trained during a single session to put their front two paws into a toy hoop immediately following the trainer’s verbal cue “hoop” . In the control (IG) group, dogs’ errors executing the trick were ignored, and in the No-Reward Marker (NRM) group, the dogs ’ errors were followed by a tone, which signaled the lack of a forthcoming reward. All the dogs heard a click and were given a food reward after every correct execution of the target behavior. The dogs’ performance and displays of stress behaviors were evaluated. The dogs in the IG group reached higher levels of performance on the novel training task, but there was no difference between the two groups in the overall frequency of stress behaviors. Consequently, when teaching a dog a simple new behavior, he will likely learn faster and with fewer errors if the errors he does make are ignored. No-reward markers do not appear to be a highly effective form of negative feedback in this context.