In recent times, the use of No Reward Markers (NRM’s) has become a bit controversial. Some reward-based trainers use them, some don’t. Some think they are detrimental to training and others think they have an important role in the learning process.
We are fans of No Reward Markers, provided they are used judiciously and properly. We are not fans of eh-eh’ing dogs all over the place, but a well-timed “Oops!” or “Too Bad!” can be a good way to communicate mistakes and re-set a behavior. It’s hard to sound harsh when saying something like “Oops” and so this allows you to avoid a dog becoming less willing to try on the next rep. By the way, I learned to use NRM’s the eh-eh way, and it’s a hard habit to break!
An important thing to remember is that when a dog makes a mistake, the onus is on us. If a dog does not hold a down stay if there are too many distractions, giving a “correction” isn’t really fair, as we probably haven’t proofed the behavior to the level we are asking of the dog. A No Reward Marker gives us the chance to communicate to the dog to try a little harder. It probably means that we should slow things down to a pace that is more do-able for the dog, as well.
A good rule of thumb to follow is that if you need to use a No Reward Marker twice in a row, go back to an easier step. And, as important, if not more so, you want to make sure that you are marking the correct behavior, either with a marker word like “Yes!” or a clicker. And, your timing is important with both No Reward Markers and the markers you use for the desired behavior in order to effectively communicate with your dog.
Training can and should be fun. It should be about communication and learning. Remember- the learner doesn’t yet speak your language- be a fair teacher who rewards good behavior well and gives encouragement and feedback on behaviors that need improvement.