One of the most common things I have clients tell me is that they don’t want to have to use treats for the rest of their lives. Building the intrinsic motivation for your dog to want to work with you takes time and trust and continues to be fostered throughout your training program.
The biggest mistake I will often see is when people try to wean off of a reward system too soon. Just because your dog has been responding at home to your vocal or physical cues for a command doesn’t mean that you want to start eliminating rewards just yet. You want to condition your dog to be responsive and engage well with you in areas of distraction. Use their favorite motivator, and spend time working your dog in areas that you find to be the most challenging. I love training in home improvement stores, outdoor shopping centers, and pet stores! The level of distraction is high, and it pushes me to continue to reinforce behaviors and build better attention from my dog.
I also implement a series of consequences for my dogs in their training programs. For example, if I simply ask my dog to sit and they are overly distracted by other things in their environment, their ‘consequence’ becomes me helping them into the position I initially asked for. By doing this, I am ensuring that I am following through with what I had asked, but also supporting them through their learning as they build reliability.
When I am ready to consider moving my dog off a constant reward system, instead of moving to no reward, I begin with intermittent reward systems. I will ask my dog for multiple behaviors and then pay them for their hard work. I will sporadically pay them so they do not anticipate whether or not a treat (or toy) is on its way.
“I will sporadically pay them so they do not anticipate whether or not a treat (or toy) is on its way.”
I also get into a very consistent habit of vocally praising my dog every time they receive an external reward (ex. food or toys). This helps me to build the value of my praise and helps my dog to learn to be happy working with me.
Overall, consistent, clear communication and reading what your dog is ready for helps me to meet them where they are at in their training and push them to the next level. By doing this, I build a strong working relationship with my dog that carries over into all environments and allows me the confidence of knowing that regardless of the situations surrounding us, my dogs will reliably respond to what I am asking of them.
Marie Aymard joined the Bay Area K9 Association after years of working with dogs in San Francisco. She has experience working with dogs of all sizes and temperaments and is driven to help each and every dog reach their highest potential. Her background is in psychology and animal assisted therapy.
If you enjoyed this post, you should read “Love Heals” here.
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