Non-Reward Markers… What Does That MEAN?? And, Why it Might Help You Communicate With Your Dog!

Why NO isn’t always bad but often over used.

I have the opportunity, or should I say the blessing of running a lot of our online programs.  I am sure several of you are familiar with me and have taken a few of those programs, and it seems I get asked a lot about telling your dog when he has made a mistake or non-reward markers.

Just like we advocate using a clicker to tell your dog he has a reward coming (operant conditioning) some trainers also advocate using a marker to tell your dog that what he has just chosen to do is wrong.

I’m not talking about screaming NO, or punishing him, or leash corrections or really anything other than letting him know the choice he just made was wrong.

Heck, he doesn’t even have to be on a leash.

Let Me Explain

First of all you have to use marker training or clicker training to mark and reward the behaviors you want.

So you must understand the inner workings of clicker training. For more on getting started clicker training click here.

You pair the treat with the clicker so that when your dog does something right, even from a distance, you can “mark” (hence the like term marker training) THE MOMENT it happens so that your dog understand what he has just done and is more likely to do it again.

This is Important for Complex Behaviors

I just love this photo, thanks to Liza Howard for the photo

I just love this photo, thanks to Liza Howard for the photo

This kind of training is especially important for complex behaviors.

I teach my dogs to put their heads flat on the ground on command.  I can’t really imagine how to do that with compulsion… don’t get me wrong I am sure I could back hand them or force their little heads down; but it would be much more difficult.

However, it is much easier to frustrate them when I am teaching them “down” and not click them for the immediate down and wait for them to begin to dip their heads down as a way of asking “is this what you want?”

Once I click the “head dip” I can then up the ante and wait for them to place their heads on the ground and then increase the duration of the behavior.

WHY do I do this?

Because you can’t stare at a passing cat or the neighbor kids if you head is affixed to the ground!  It gives me control over what they are staring at; and it’s super cute for dog training demonstrations.  How many dogs do you know that can put their head down on command?

Anyhow, I digress.

Back to Non Reward Markers

Why would you use them?

Just like telling your clicker trained or marker trained dog the moment he has done something right non-reward markers tell your dog when he has done something wrong.

Not WRONG really, but something that is not  your goal.

What is a Non-Reward Marker?

It simply means that what you just did, will not result in a treat, toy

Thanks to companion animal psychology for the photo

Thanks to companion animal psychology for the photo

, praise or whatever else you are working for.

Say I am working on having my adult dog put his head down; but after he lays down and gets frustrated instead of dipping his head he gets up and sits.  The sit would be “wrong” as in not what I want and moving away from what I am looking for, so I might use a word that means “that’s not what I want” and results in no toy, treat, or praise.

I use the word “Nope” said simply, happily and with no negative emotion.

So when my dog hears “Nope” he/she knows that wasn’t what I wanted, but I’m not in trouble.

Then we get up and try again.

You See…

With marker based training your dog learns to run through a gamut of behaviors to finally find “the one” or close to the one you are looking for.

He or she will run through all his “tricks” or behaviors in an attempt to give you what you want, this is natural and very much wanted with clicker/marker training.  This means your dog is thinking.

But the more your dog knows, sometimes the more behaviors he has to run through before finding what you want!

By using a non-reward marker you can help put him on the right course or clear up confusion for him.


However, because non-reward markers are not “fun” even though they can relay information, you have to be careful about over using them in your dog training.

Using them too often without helping your dog instead will frustrate him to the point of possibly not wanting to play games with you anymore.

For instance if we are working on “head down” and my dog sits, then gets up and stands, or rolls over; instead of using “nope”, “nope”, “nope”, “nope” I would tell him to lay down again and then maybe help him dip his head toward the ground with a treat to help him have success.

Never Puppies

Thanks vida volunteer travel for the photo

Thanks vida volunteer travel for the photo

And, I NEVER use non-reward markers on young puppies; it is too frustrating for puppies and in my opinion curtails their learning.

Puppies need to have success and be actively taught.

Non-reward markers are for dogs that are pretty well trained, know the clicker game in and out and have learned to deal with a little bit of frustration and keep trying.

Puppies are likely to just give up and not find training fun at all if you use them; just like using them too often.

Why I’ve Been Using Them Lately

I have taken up agility (as if I need more to do) and in agility my dog has to move out and away from me and do things at a distance.  She also has to learn to perform without me being right next to her.

Right now she finds the weave poles tedious and “unfun”, it’s not fun to have to slow down and carefully make sure you weave your body through each pole; so she has been known to pop out at about the 3rd weave pole and head to the spot she knows where her treat lives.

Why not right?  Why not cheat and still get your treat?

Don’t get me wrong, right now I have a helper that makes sure she can’t reward herself by cheating!! But if I were her I would try cheating too!

So the MOMENT she pops out of that third (or whichever) weave pole I tell her “Nope” as she runs to see if her treat is awaiting.  Soon she realizes, number one I say it consistently when she pops out too soon and two, there is no treat waiting there if she cheats or hears the word “Nope”.

I think it is very effective for telling her WHY there is no treat waiting!  I think it helps her to understand what is required of her… it is not about getting there the fastest; it is about doing it with speed AND precision.

Some Will Disagree

Some trainers will disagree and some don’t use non-reward markers at all.

I think for the most part they don’t want to create the frustration at all, they think the dog will eventually figure out WHY he is not being rewarded and HOW to get rewarded without using them and I totally agree.

I also respect those that don’t want to use them.  My agility teacher actually cringes each time I use it because she doesn’t want there to be any negative in our agility game.

I personally try to use them as little as possible so that they continue to teach and have weight instead of being just another negative word that we use.

I also make sure I never use anger or emotion when I use them because that is not the purpose at all!!

It is crucial that the word have important meaning to the dog.

So as you are training consider, would a non-reward marker serve you well, or will you choose only to let your clicking tell the story?

What do you think?



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  1. Jenny says:

    If my dogs make a mistake when I’m agility training, I use oops.


    Minette Reply:

    See, that tells your dog “try again”


  2. janet Amighi says:

    Hi Minette
    I get it but here are two hesitations:
    1. when I’m teaching students in college, if I say, “Wrong” or “nope” to them they rarely offer answers again. It doesn’t feel good. But they notice that I don’t say “good point”
    So generally I think, not getting a reward is a no reward marker itself.

    2. Its too easy to use and tends to get overused. I find myself saying “whoops” when I really don’t want to at all. Its in our nature to want to correct and so we’ve stopped (hopefully) yelling and hitting, so No reward Marker gives us something to say.
    And may make us mentally lazy. Better to say to yourself, how can I teach this or motivate this better so the dog doesn’t make the same mistake again.


    Minette Reply:

    This is the exact reason some do and some don’t use them.

    I don’t use them all of the time, but like I said with the weave poles, I would rather let her know the moment that she pops out that THAT was why she didn’t get the reward rather than sending her through 10 more times to make the same mistake and continue to get frustrated.

    IMO that nonreward marker lets her know THAT is what I didn’t want, just like a marker says THAT is what I want.

    It often depends on the dog and the circumstance, how often you use it, and how quickly you get over it and move on to something that can be rewarding 🙂

    Neither answer is “right” it is more of a matter of choice, I think as long as it is not over used 🙂


  3. Sarah says:

    This is a general question not about this particular article. Is it possible for you to make these lessons audible so one can listen if they have to do something else at the same time? I love them but I don’t always have time to sit and read them.


  4. Jerry says:


    Thank you very much. Quite interesting. My little dog (except she is not so little now because she has gained 9 Lbs. since I adopted her from the Animal Shelter & is 31 Lbs. now) Misty is a PBGV who is a Very Lovable Manipulator & a Tease!

    I have control of her until she hears children or other people & will immediately take off from our immediate area & will ran to where she hears the voices.

    She KNOWS her boundaries, BUT… she will go to the edge of the boundary, stop & then look at me knowing I’ll tell her “NO”, then quickly run outside of her boundary to where either she hears children & then is apparently saying to me, “Ha,Ha, I am going & you cannot stop me.. Bye, Bye”…

    Every time she runs to other people she will roll over on her back, belly up for them to rub her fat little tummy.
    Misty is such a fun-loving little dog that I do worry that she could possibly be easily stolen when she does this.

    Sometimes she will look at me, & then run, knowing she is not supposed to & I’ll say, “You darn little dog Misty”& I get off of my lawn chair to go after her, but then I suddenly find that she has run around the apt. building & has come up behind me & when I turn around, she is looking at me as if she is laughing having fooled me again. Funny little dog, but she gives me concern when she does this, especially when she gets out of my sight & then I find her walking down a walkway towards the street.

    What do you advise me to do so she will not be so full of adventure & looking to explore other areas?

    Now, after I let her loose to go pee & poop in the lawn area & I pick it up, I then put a 4′ leash extension on her 16′ retractable leash, plus about another 10′-15′ of light rope to give her more to run around in in her play area behind our apt. I don’t like having her restrained this way, but I don’t want to lose her, or have her get hurt. She knows her large area, BUT… she likes to push her limits beyond…

    Again, I thank you for these delightful videos you show, but, if you would, please give me some advice.

    Thank you,
    Jerry & his pain-in-the-Butt, Misty whom everyone Loves!


  5. Don says:

    On the head to the ground they can still stare at a cat or kids.Iam at wits end with my dog he is 3 and still acts like a puppy.Got him from an animal shelter.What iam doing wrong is put him in the cage alot.I have no other choice.He will start training soon i don’t know what the results will be.


    Minette Reply:

    While it is possible it isn’t probable for long. Put your chin on the ground and try to stare at a running kid without moving it off the ground, it becomes to difficult to pursue.


  6. Kathy says:

    When, training wise, does a puppy become a dog? I have a 12 month old golden retriever but I have him for only 6 months and am not on training “full time.” He does well most of time. So is it a knowledge maturity thing or a passed an age thing?


    Minette Reply:

    In my opinion it is a maturity thing and something that comes from working with them and knowing each other’s expectations.

    I might use nonreward markers for a 6 month old of one dog, but wait till another dog is a year or so older


  7. Ron Hughes says:

    I really enjoy your articles.
    I am looking for some suggestions on training a deaf dog.
    We got her when she was 6wks old, she is now 1yr old. I have taught her to sit, give her paw, and lay down, but she pays no attention when she is excited. She is always happy to see people and jumps up on them. Do you have any tips on how to stop this and how to get her to obey even when she is excited?


  8. hanigurdi says:

    I have a Rottwiller and I have a problem that its now one year and four month and I start to train it the attack but I don’t find the best way to do this and the dog has finish the obedience and its very well trained so if you can send me some vedios to help me with this thanx


  9. Avinash M says:

    Thank you for all that is on this website.. M sure it will be a great help for me ..

    Just one thing..
    I have a Siberian Husky & it jumps on everyone & bites everyone’s hand softly & not hard .. He is 10 months old..

    How many times I need to feed him in a day & he bites everything.. 🙁

    Need help on this Pls..


    Minette Reply:

    Huskies are high energy for sure, very high drive and need lots of exercise. LOTS

    Read this for the biting

    this for the jumping and use a leash when people come over

    and talk to your vet, I have found that very high protein content in food can make behaviors worse

    this for exercise


  10. Jerry says:

    I use “Aah!” and “No!” “Yes!” and “Good!” They mean very different things. “No!” is just that, and for things like chasing cats, Yanking on the leash, ie something that is really bad and usually when the dog does something that he KNOWS is bad. KNOWING is especally important for puppy. “Aah!” is said much softer and is like the hot or warm in the childhood hot&cold game. “Yes is for when the dog is working hard but not quite getting it but close. It means your not getting it right but keep it up your close!. Good is the click. I don’t typically use a clicker but the concept is the same. It sounds like I have 2 non-reward markers – a softer and a harder one. I am very consistent which is supper important. I can’t recall them getting discouraged with an Aah and yes helps encourage when they are going the right direction. BUT I will say again, it is up-most important to keep the meanings clear, so never say no when you mean aah.


    Minette Reply:

    True but clickers are easier for a dog to understand, which is why I use them to shape initial behaviors and then rely on my marker word.


  11. Jeannie says:

    Don’t give up on the rescue dog. We got a Lhasa Apsa which ended up to be Lhasa ears on a terrier dog. He barked, he jumped on people, he pulled at the leash. Now, since starting clicker training about 6 months ago, he doesn’t bark outside unless he wants to come in- one bark. He doesn’t jump on our guests. He can walk on a loose leash, but still will get exited about other dogs. HOWEVER, if we can get his attention first, get him to sit and use our “calm” command, we can make it through without injury to him or my arm. Our neighbors have noticed the difference in him!


  12. Vicki Black says:

    I have a Cheagle that is one week shy of being 4 months old. She is doing good by going to the door and sitting to let me know she has to go out. she goes out with my watchful eye and does her business, but at times something will catch her eye and I lose her attention, as I start praising her as soon as she finishes so she knows she’s a good girl, but then she will run and stop, sun and stop, til I tell her in a harsh word NO. Sometimes it works and some times it doesn’t. I’m also working with her on the NO BITE right now too. Telling her NO, NO bite, and if I go towards her she will run from me in the house. 8 times out of 10 she comes, but I know she has a strong determination to do what she wants because she starts barking at me, and will run past me trying to nip at my finger I have pointed at her. I hold strong in my determination to let her know I don’t accept that behavior. What can I do to let her know I’m the more dominate one? Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated… Thank you


    Minette Reply:

    It’s not about who is dominant, it is about teaching. at 4 months old I am pretty sure you are dealing with just a puppy and not a maniacal force that wants to take over the world.

    Puppies need to play, are you allowing that? They need to chase butterflies and run around and have fun, and the more exercise they get the less they bite and run around the house and do naughtiness.

    And, I keep my puppies on a leash in the house so they don’t learn naughty behaviors, but instead learn good manners and obedience.


  13. Victor says:

    Hi Minette,

    I have a 3.5 month old male English cocker spaniel. We’ve been meshing and getting along for the most part. Crate training is going decently well with no accidents just the usual whimpering at times. I have gated off the area of the apt I want him to be in always. When I leave that area should I place him in his crate even when I am home but can’t devote my full attention to him – like when I’m getting ready for work/school? Also, he’s getting use to walking on a leash we made progress but within the past few days he’s pulling on it more and less attentive to my directions. Do you have any suggestions?


    Minette Reply:

    Yes! I would crate until he is completely housetrained and trustworthy


  14. sue dieringer says:

    what do you mean you keep the puppy on a leash so no wrong behaviors occur? I have a 5 month just turned 5 mo. 2 days ao airedale. She is potty trained and knows sit and is trying to learn down. She loves to chew on my hands and I limit this usually working on giving her something else to chew or if it is her rowdy time (dusk) then i give her a Kong with peanut butter. I am just learning all of the treats that are not good and have her on Merrick but have to switch her again. She has a big back yard and we go walking short distances almost everyday. How should I teach her down?


    Minette Reply:

    Yes, I keep my puppies on leash to teach them basics and manners


  15. Juanita wilcox says:

    How old should a dog before yout start in training, as don’t jump,bite, and pee in house?


    Minette Reply:

    I start my puppies right away at 8 weeks by rewarding good behavior


  16. Sue McDonnell says:

    When Samantha misses a pole in Weaves, I just go back and start again. It is amazing how careful she is the next go as she wants the treat and you don’t get that until the last weave pole!


    Minette Reply:

    It is certainly a personal preference however, I still like communicating what I like and why you aren’t getting the reward.


  17. Puppey Lover says:

    Hi I have been watching and reading about your training techniques for weeks now.
    But i now have a question that I have not seen answered yet.
    I own a large dog kennel. We work with about 20 puppies at different stages of learning every day.
    When I go to change their potty pads they jump up on me and cut my flesh with their claws.
    I end up mad and yelling at these beautiful little fun loving critters.
    What happens is they become frightened of humans.
    How can i mass train 8 to 10 week old puppies to let me clean their potty pads, with out them jumping all over me?

    They are so sweet and just want to have fun. But I need help with this problem as soon as possible.

    What says ye?
    Can you give me some good ideas for making them settle down when I go into their play yard?

    Tysm A puppy lover.


    Minette Reply:

    Can you teach an infant Chemistry?

    you are talking about babies, and babies are just that.

    Sure, you can teach them impulse control but at some point they are babies who want attention.

    You are better off working on your own anger management and then working with them on basic impulse control.


  18. astrid demicoli says:

    I have 7 fox terriers, all rescue dogs of different ages. I have a garden and the door is always open since I live in Malta and the climate is very mild. They pee all over the house and I cannot get them to understand to pee and pooh outside. They are very close to me, sleep with me and probably cuddled too much. Can you help?


    Minette Reply:

    leaving your door open is like having a doggy door, read this


  19. Kay says:

    Hello, I bought the video about how to stop a dog getting excited about having the ball, but it doesn’t really apply to my problem. Marley is a collie x greyhound (I believe) that we rescued 6 years ago at a year old, and is well behaved except when he is very excited and won’t listen; when it’s feed time he runs round and round the stable yard and ends up chasing his tail – when anyone is using a machine – strimmer, saw, mower he does the same. When I am mucking out stables he runs round and round and tries to pick up the droppings as if he is trying to help!! The worst is when I am going to feed/check on animals (we have a farm) and I think he is trying to prevent me from going away from home – he runs from side to side in front of me, barking in a very high pitch and if I ask him to ‘down’ he eventually does, but then when I walk on he does the same very soon again. When I’m very busy it does my head in. Indoors he is very good – goes to his bed etc and is well behaved. i usually tell him ‘good boy’ when he’s good and he also knows ‘leave it’ – do I have to introduce a clicker at this rather late stage?


  20. Rebecca Lans says:

    Aloha Ron: I have trained several deaf dogs and one of the most important things to train a deaf dog to do is to look at you. This can be taught by putting your dog on a leash and sitting/standing wait for her to look at you. As soon as she looks at you, reward her with a high value treat (steak maybe). Pretty soon she will be looking at you quite often. I had a friend who taught her deaf dog to look at her every 20 seconds! Next, learn and communicate with her using hand signals. I found dogs learn hand signals much faster than verbal (why? because they are not verbal). The jumping can be worked on immediately. When she jumps on you or your friends (they MUST cooperate), don’t touch, don’t look at her and turn around and walk away. Don’t wait for friends and family to come over. Set up training sessions. If not rewarded, the behavior will stop (keep in mind, it might escalate before it stops (in the dogs head, if one thing doesn’t work they will try something a little stronger behavior). Keep in mind, you must do this 100% of the time. Even a one time reward, will set you back. Teach you friends hand signals. Also, if a dog is sitting, it can’t be jumping. I could write a book about training deaf dogs, but I hope this helps a bit. When outdoors, keep your dog on leash at all times.


  21. Ginger says:

    I have a doggie door and agree with all your reasons not to have one. I’ve experienced them all. The worst was the visit from the skunk. I found him in the kitchen eating the cat food. I left him alone I o n ce found a package of marshmallows buried in my garden. Now, I make sure the pantry door is closed.
    My new puppy loves chewing on wood, bark, and roots, preferable in the house on the carpet. My cat brings me gifts and when I scream releases them to scurry under the refrigerator. It’s life with animals and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


  22. My dog just turned one, l do not use the clicker, hand and voice signals and treats for getting it right. You said you never use this system on a puppy only dogs that know the clicker inside and out.
    So, will this program work for my one year (October 1, 2016) since she does not know the clicker training?


    Minette Reply:

    I would use a clicker


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