So in my earlier blog I talked through several things regarding rewards and some of the common mistakes people make when training. If you missed it then you can read it here.
In this blog I want to go through two other very important subjects when it comes to rewarding our dogs :
🧩Rate of Reinforcement
When we reward our dogs it is very tempting to reward them for trying or even for looking cute at you….. yes I know, I’ve done it too 🙈😂 (Handy for focus training, not so handy if we are training other things!)
The thing is, dogs repeat what they get reinforced and if we reinforce something that’s not correct guess what happens…. Yep, they repeat the incorrect behaviour thinking that is what you want because you have just reinforced it!🤦♀️
With criteria we need to be confident on what skill or behavior we want and only reward that behavior!
I see it a lot in classes and often hear people say things like ‘oh good try’ or ‘nearly’ then they give the dog the treat. The trouble with that is, the dog thinks it has done a really good thing as they have been rewarded, so he will repeat that same behaviour- after all that is the thing that got him the nice tasty bit of ham!
Think about what EXACTLY you are rewarding your dog for. If you are wanting a sit then only reward the sit, don’t deliver the reward if your dog comes out of the sit, ask for the behaviour again and when they offer the sit again, lots of praise and lots of reward.
If it is a behavior that requires stillness or calm then slowly deliver the treat, if our hands or our movement is high energy, it will encourage the dog to be high energy too and they are more likely to move out of position. Later on in the training we can proof our movement, so the dog learns to stay in a position despite what we are doing with our body.
Like I mentioned in the earlier blog your dog may not just get the reward from the food, you may be giving him a verbal reward or he may be getting his own reward from something else (maybe you have a dog that shuffles forward on a agility start line to get closer to the equipment) or maybe a spaniel that loves to hunt and sniff the ground. We have to keep our eyes peeled and look at exactly what our dogs are doing and WHY, if we can work out the problem it’s easy to find a solution.
This brings me onto my next topic of rate of reinforcement. Once they have performed that fantastic behavior you have been training them then what do you do???
I see it so many times in training.. the dog does something brilliant and the owner then gives them ONE dry boring biscuit 🍪 😔!
For training you need to give the dog lots of easy wins!
Make the task your asking them to do nice and easy then gradually build up the level of difficulty. When they get it right then let them know they have hit the jackpot!! 🎉 Celebrate, give them lots of verbal praise but also make the rate of reinforcement HIGH! Feed feed FEED! Not just 1 treat but LOTS!! (Cut up your training treats into small pieces, pea size is fine)
Dogs can disengage and loose focus very quickly and new training is hard for them. There is lots of thinking and focus involved. This is why I like to teach lots of 3 minute games that can be repeated throughout the day. This works really well for the dogs as the sessions are fun, short but focused.
For training classes or sessions when the environment may be difficult for the dogs always use high value treats / food like cocktail sausage, ham or cheese.
A lot of people worry about how many treats they give their dogs in training and what I usually suggest if they are worried about their dogs gaining weight, is to simply cut down their usual food on that day to make way for the treats you are going to give them when training. Even better if you can use some of their daily food allowance as treats, but this isn’t always possible in distracting environments when learning new skills.
Next time you train your dog make a mental note of what you are actually doing with your reinforcement. Do you accidentally reward the wrong thing? Or maybe you are a bit stingy with your rewards. Put yourself in your dogs position and try to see it from their perspective, would you work for what you are offering?
🐾 Easy Wins
🐾 Correct Criteria Only!
🐾 High Rate of Reinforcement.
As the dogs get more confident with the skills we are teaching we can use a ‘variable rate of reinforcement’ This is the most successful method of teaching a dog a behavior, but when they are first learning or they are in environments that distract them we need to make the reinforcement a good deal for our dogs.
For those who are wondering about using toys as a reward, don’t worry I will be talking about that in a blog very soon!
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Play….. Train….. Enjoy…. Succeed!
Happy Training 🐾