Sunday, January 31, 2010

Non-Food Rewards

Anyone reading the advice I give on training would be forgiven for thinking that I depend 100% on food for rewarding my dogs.  But while I do use food quite a bit in training new behavior, the real reason I emphasize it so much in writing is because it's a safe bet that anyone's dog will respond to food.  It takes a jaded dog indeed to turn down warm chicken or sirloin.  However, I do use "life rewards" for behavior - in short, in return for good behavior, I let the dog do whatever it wants to do at that moment.

For instance, I'm trying to get Trooper Thorn and BeBop to do their Sits and Downs more promptly with less reluctance.  Now, part of that, of course, is just practicing more with clicks and treats.  But I'm making better progress using "life rewards".  Along walks, whenever I see that one of them wants to go sniff something and check it out, I ask them for a Sit or Down.  I make sure that I do it in a light hearted voice, not stern. And at first, I was falling into the bad habit of "making" them give me their attention if they were slow - touching them, a tug with the leash, a "Hey!"  Bad, Hudson!  Bad!  Luckily, I caught myself, and now the worst that happens if they don't give me a Sit or Down, or take terribly long to do it, is that we move on without them getting the chance to sniff.   No punishments!  Only the missed chance for a reward.

And lo and behold, I am noticing a marked improvement in the speed of their responses.  Not lightning fast yet, but it's only been a few days.  But much prompter than when we started.  They're starting to pair the behaviors with good things.

So, this is the advantage of non-food rewards - you always have them.  You're never without your treat bag.  You don't have to worry about your dog only performing when you have food.  Because, trust me, there is always something your dog wants, even if its just to go roll in that smelly spot in the grass.


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