Welcome to a “Training Tip Tuesday!” This is a weekly column that’s written by Rugby and I! We offer simple, general tips that will help our readers get better training results with their dogs. We hope you’ll enjoy training your own dogs as much as Rugby and I do!
Mama Sally: Last week, Rugby posted a photo of the swag bag I was given at BlogPaws. Lots of his Furends were jealous,thinking that Rugby would be watching squirrels and eating treats on the patio all day. Not at our house! Not by a long shot!
Often when I’m doing evaluations or training, I see owners giving their dogs treats left and right. A dog might do a good job with a training session, and his owner wants to give him half a bag of treats at the end of training, because “he deserves it.”
Let’s face it! In America, many humans express love to their pets through food. People feel sorry for them, or they fall for those drippy soft eyes, and they give them treats. It’s no wonder so many pets struggle with weight issues, and spoiled attitudes abound. Yet, all of us want great family pets who are well behaved and who will live forever.
Let me ask all of you a very important question: When was the last time you went to your mailbox and got a HUGE check from someone for absolutely no reason whatsoever? Never, right? Publisher’s Clearinghouse is only on TV commercials. We all seem to understand that if we want to be paid, we need to work for that paycheck! The absolute same thing holds true for our dogs! We need to help them understand that nothing in life is free. Rugby earns every treat that he gets at our house.
It will help you to understand how dogs process learning new things. When I am training something new with Rugby, I do reward him with treats (often dog food kibble), but I also consistently verbally praise him and give him lots of petting as well. When your dog works hard, by all means, give him a great paycheck! I save special treats to sprinkle into a training session so that Rugby gets a “jackpot” every once in a while when he does an extra great job, or repeats a behavior several times in a row for me. (There is a process for fading treats once dogs have learned a specific behavior, but that’s a topic for another blog!)
The timing on giving him that treat is very important! When I’m training anything, I know I have 1-2 seconds to reinforce a behavior, so I need to give Rugby that treat immediately after he’s done the behavior I want. If I wait longer than that, I won’t capture the exact moment that I need in order for Rugby to understand specifically what behavior I’m asking him to produce.
For example, we tell our kids to clean their rooms and then we’ll take them for ice cream as a reward for their work. That completely makes sense to a child. With a dog, that would make no sense. Rugby would think, “Yay! The Mama is taking me for ice cream! I get an outing today!” If I want Rugby to understand why he’s getting that treat, and tie it in with picking up his toys for example, I have to reward him as he does his job. So when he puts one toy away, I mark and treat. That will continue until all of the toys are put away. When his work is done, the rewards stop. It makes no sense to him to get one huge reward minutes after the fact. Dogs simply don’t make that connection. They live in the now.
The good news, though, is that Rugby loves to have the opportunity to earn treats, so he’s always looking for a job that might earn him a kibble of food. It really does help with behavior modification in working through various issues you might have with your dogs, because your dog will want to earn those treats all day long, so he will be more likely to work all day long. Give that a try with your dogs at home, and watch them go to work for you!
Rugby James: Oh boy!! I just lubs discussions about treats and work!! I just lubs to have a job to do, on account of that’s how I can get extra nibbles when the Mama is home! She is amazing!! She has these lil stashes of treats all over the house! They are everywhere! In every. single. room! That way, I know I can get a nibble no matter where I am and I can work hard all over the house and not just in one special room or at one special time of day. She doesn’t go in much for giving me stuff when I beg, but she’s purty good about letting me show her I know to be calm when there is noises outside. That one is really, really hard for me, but I’ve gotted better on account of the Mama is always ready to mark and treat no matter where we are in the house. Because she does this all day, she uses tiny bites like the size of a kibble of food or the end of the pencil eraser I chewed off when I was a pupper! That way, I doesn’t gain weight, and I also doesn’t get all filled up sos I doesn’t wanna work for her anymore. When I’m hungry, I wanna work hard to get a nibble! It’s a purty good system what we’ve got at my house and I highly recommend it!