Trick Training: Go to Your Mark
Actors and actresses, when performing, have marks that they have to move to for any particular scene. They may move to a sofa and sit, walk across the scene to a piece of tape on the floor, or some other pre-arranged spot. By having these marks, the camera and sound technicians can make sure the actor is seen and heard. And by doing this, chaos with the other actors can be averted.
Animals who participate in commercials, television, movies or stage productions also need to learn to go to pre-arranged spots. Their spot might be marked with a small piece of carpet or some other visual cue that they have been taught to go to.
Teaching your dog to go to his mark is fun. It’s a great trick, will amuse your guests when you let your dog show off, and it can be put to practical use. Plus, when you do additional trick training, your dog can go to his mark several steps away from you and then do some of his tricks at that spot just as canine actors do.
Teaching Your Dog
You will need some good treats that your dog likes and something to use as a mark. Once your dog knows this trick you can teach him to go to many different things, but while teaching this initially, use something obvious. Check out Bones in the accompanying photo – his first mark was this small step stool.
- Place the step stool on the floor and call your dog. Drop a treat on the stool and encourage your dog to eat it. You want your dog to equate the stool with treats, so do this several more times and then take a break.
- At the next training session, have some treats in hand and call your dog to you. Praise him, give him a treat, and then, standing on the other side of the stool, hold the treat at your dog’s nose level and encourage him to place a paw on the stool. Lifting the treat up slightly and towards you can help. When he does, praise him, “Good mark! Yeah!” Give him the treat. Repeat several more times and then take a break.
- Your goal is for your dog to place both front paws on the stool (the mark) so over the next few training sessions, watch for your dog placing both front paws on the mark and when he does, give him a jackpot of treats. (A jackpot is lots of praise, petting, and a handful of treats.) Repeat a few times and take a break.
- When your dog is putting both paws on the stool reliably, then begin asking him to go to mark rather than calling him to it. Place yourself a step or two away from the stool and tell your dog, “Sweetie, go to your mark,” and when he does, praise and reward him.
Gradually, with practice, send him from farther away and from different directions. Your praise needs to reward him immediately if you are steps away as it will take you a moment to get the treat to him. Your voice (or clicker if you use that) identifies the moment he does what you want.
When your dog is going to his mark reliably, you can change the mark. For example, you can use a small piece of carpet rather than the little step stool.
To teach a new mark, simply follow the original training steps. Just expect the training to progress much faster as your dog already understands the trick; he just needs to learn it can apply to the piece of carpet, too.