Where does reward based training go wrong?


“Now if I don’t have a treat she won’t do anything!”

Oops! This is where the ‘bribe’ is used against the trainer, or more correctly the dog has learned how to get the owner to offer a desired behavior (doling out food) and withholds an owner-desired behavior until they do so. Which is exactly what a trainer does.

Wait a minute…the dog learned the “It’s your choice program” and is using it to get what they want? Yup.

OK, here’s how it’s supposed to work. Yes we’re using food as a reward for behaviors and sometimes with new behaviors or when the dog is confused or somehow misunderstanding we can use a lure (aka bribe). But as soon as possible (think close to immediately) it has to change to being a reward that follows a behavioral try…the try doesn’t have to be the whole behavior, but there needs to be a doggy effort towards the behavior.

Then progressively, variably the expectations rise. So the dog needs to try more to get future rewards, but there also needs to be easy wins so she doesn’t get discouraged. This part is where you get the dog that keeps making the effort and trying to figure out what you want.triptoMasswithObe2013 025

What if your dog does an “I don’t want to and I don’t have to.” Example; polite dogs sit before entering or exiting the house doorway and they should do so with no verbal prompt…just wait for it – OK if you think they really know it, say “Sit” once. If they don’t, the door remains closed and so does your mouth – :). If they lose attention wiggle the door handle or slightly open it and let it re-close. When they sit, yeah, the door opens. Same for getting out of their kennel, polite dogs sit and wait, if they don’t the door doesn’t open. When they do the reward is getting out. Can there be food in this process, sure, especially if they have no idea of what you might want and you want to help them understand…food lure, but only briefly, initially as a beginning prop. Do they get to train you to give them food or they won’t sit (well that is actually up to you)…but if they do, the process has done a 180 turn.

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