by Karen Brady // September 2017
When does training become behaviour?
There’s no doubt about it, reward based training is the kindest and most effective way to train your dog. We reward the dog for doing things we like and things we have asked them to do, and we ignore behaviours that we don’t like, and teach our dogs to choose a better alternative. For example, rather than leap all over people when they come into their house, or bark at the door, we teach them to go and settle quietly on their bed, or keep all four paws firmly on the floor!
Beautiful Woody learning to resist treat temptation!
We start all training by giving the dog an incentive to work for us, this may be a treat or a toy, but as they get better at it we don’t want to be relying on treats to get them to do what we want. To start with we will reward every sit with a treat! But once they can do 10/10 in a row, the first time they are asked, then start rewarding 9/10, then 8/10 and so on.
I like to keep an allowance of treats in my pocket! So I will want my dog to do 10 sits but only have 8 treats! So somewhere in the middle of our first 5 they wont get a treat, and again in the last 5. I still make a big fuss and tell him how clever he is, but he’s learning to work more for less reward. You can also change the value of the reward, so start off high for new behaviours, then start mixing in other things. I start off with chicken and fish for my boy, but then fade to his normal biscuits, if he stops working, go back to high value!
Don’t be afraid to go back to treats! At some point your dog will need top up training and it’s good practice to give them treats sometimes! This keeps their enthusiasm for listening to you, as sometimes they get something yummy as our way of saying thanks.
Mr. Cuddles says treats are great for training! But he knows he has to wait politely rather than snatch!
It’s time to use treats to help your dog learn a new behaviour, so my dog doesn’t know how to rollover, so I will go back to treats to teach him this, then fade them out once he has learned to do it well. Remember you must train your dog in lots of places so they are able to listen to you anywhere, you will also need to practice with increasing levels of distractions. If they struggle make it easier and always use treats again in a new environment to remind them it’s worth their while!
Now lets talk about life rewards! My favourite reward for my dog is letting him have what he wants and be a dog. These days, for walking nicely next to me he gets to enjoy sniffing all his favourite spots, or he gets to go off lead. For waiting patiently in a sit while I put on his collar and harness and open the front door he gets to go out for a walk. This is when training has become behaviour. I no longer ask my dog to sit, he actually just offers it when he wants something, and I will either let him have what he wants, or decide he can’t have it and he will move away. All his training has become so rewarding he now just chooses to do the things I like, because now he enjoys them too!
Having a well behaved dog allows you to trust them! Mr. Cuddles is often allowed off lead, I know he will come when called, be polite, not wander too far and check in with me regularly. Being well behaved gives him more freedom!
He still gets treats but he doesn’t expect them every time he does something!
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