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 2 other very important subjects when it comes to rewarding our dogs :
Rate of Reinforcement
So firstly criteria….
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 🙈😂 (and learnt the hard way!) .
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 behavior we want and only reward that behavior no matter how cute they are looking at you! Otherwise you will spend longer retraining the behaviour to the correct one.
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 that the dog thinks it has done a really good thing as it’s been rewarded, so he will repeat that same behaviour as after all it is the thing that got him the nice tasty bit of ham!
So 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, just ask for the behaviour again and when they do it 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 are all high energy it will encourage the dog to be high energy too.
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). We have to keep our eyes peeled and look at exactly what are dogs are doing and why when we are training them, 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, meaning making the task your asking them to do nice and easy then gradually building up the level of difficulty. BUT when they do 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!! Machine gun fire those treats at them (hypothetically speaking 😂)
Dogs can get disengaged and loose focus very quickly and new training is hard for them as there is lots of thinking and focus involved. This is why we like to teach lots of 3 minuet games that can be repeated throughout the day as this works really well for the dogs as the sessions are vive and short but focused.
It is a lot for the dogs to just concentrate and focus in a class environment, then we can sometimes add the pressure by wanting them to get the training right and then when they do we hardly reward them for it! 😔 😔 😩
I highly recommend ditching the bowl and utilising your dogs daily food allowance to train with them in the environments that they are happy and not distracted in. For training classes I 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 suggest is if they are worried about their dogs gaining weight to simply cut down their usual food on that day to make way for the treats you are going to give them. Wafer thin ham is good as it has a high water content.
So next time you train your dog just make a meantal note of what you are actually doing, 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.
🐾 Easy Wins
🐾 Correct Criteria Only!
🐾 High Rate of Reinforcement.
Play….. Train….. Enjoy…. Succeed!
Happy Training 🐾