Rewards in dog training, contentious for many reasons but they certainly have their place!
I know that there are many opinions on reward based training in the gundog world and everyone is entitled to their opinion of course. Many misunderstand reward based training as treat bribery but if done correctly this is not the case and in addition rewards dont even have to be treats. There is no point trying to force feed your dog a slice of chicken if all it really wants to hear is ‘good boy’ and have a pat on the side for its good work!
This leads me nicely to my point today, hands up if you know what your dog finds rewarding?
Hands up who can tell me what their dog finds rewarding?
Chances are you might list some of the things in the photo to the right >
Chances are you might joke about stealing socks or playing chase!
Chances are not many will be able to really nail their dogs top 3 favourites, be that food, toys, praise etc
How many of us though can really answer the question with any kind of real confidence?
Ranking rewards is an invaluable thing to do. Its simple and ever so effective! You simply make yourself a top 3, 5 or 10 of your dogs favourite rewards. I like the top 10 as this gives me a broader overview of what my dog enjoys and more scope for how to use them. I do however have a white board that I use for training and this lists just the top 3. The joy of whiteboards is they can be wiped out, re-jigged as rewards become more or less favoured over time.
So what prompted this blog now?
Well, I kept a puppy from my last litter but sadly whilst she was just a few months old my old boy became ill and he passed away on New Years day 2019, this meant that those last few months were dedicated to him and our little ones training had to be put to one side, it also fell to the way side for the whole of January whilst I grieved for my boy.
So, come February I pulled my socks up and got out the white board to start training. I ranked my older girls rewards based on past history (to be updated after training) but when it came to my Rosa it looked like this…..
- Stealing things
- Self-rewarding ‘chase me’ games
and that is what brought me to my blog!
So after ranking rewards honestly the tilt was towards games Rosa was making up herself, I have several choices now:
- I can use those games to my advantage and work them around to create my own games i.e. turning chase Rosa into chase me or I’ve always got the best toy not you
- I can bear in mind what I am trying to avoid when training i.e. avoid chase games developing or running off with dummies
- I can work on upping sensible rewards of food, toys and verbal praise to the top of the chart
Make today the day you start honestly ranking your dogs rewards, get to know what makes them tick and use it to your advantage. None of the 3 main choices listed above are right or wrong you can simply do what works for your dog, think outside the box and challenge yourself when training as well as your dog!
Recent example of thinking outside the box:
- I went to the local park,
- Upon arrival decided to work on middle child (dog) Faith sitting in car and waiting with door open before releasing.
- Began training but rewarding her waiting, had short but nice duration but wasn’t solid and her main thoughts were ‘when can I jump out’, you know that little bum twitch every time they think their release cue is coming!
So what next, hmmmmm, time to turn training on its head:
- I sat her in car, gave her the ‘yes’ release cue but onto a treat in my hand
- As soon as she reached my hand and took the small treat I started to say ‘quick, quick, quick’ whilst running back towards the open car door and as she reached it I said ‘oopa’ (our word for jump up) and in she jumped, as she was jumping a better treat was thrown in the car for her to grab, which she did happily.
- Then I asked for the sit
- We started again and each time she was more excited about getting back in the car and her waits became lovely solid ones as the bigger rewards were happening inside the car not outside the car and in turn she was also enjoying a speedy game which had broken the tension of the session
You can download a really handy free training log sheet from the Ladies Working Dog Group under free downloads using the link below *please note you must be logged in as member to access this. If you are not a member you can easily make up your own.