Training Tips for Sensitive and/or Distracted Dogs - Episode 3. Reward me, reward me not...
Ok, everyone! :) Today we are going to touch on my favourite aspect of dog training (and a crucial one for any successful dog training!) - MOTIVATION! Yes, It is an extremely broad topic. And no, I won't be able to properly sum it up in one blog... But I'll try to pinpoint little things that I always look for/ think of changing / pay attention to when I am helping dog owners and dogs themselves, especially the ones that have a tendency to be sensitive about things, distracted by the environment or going into avoidance/ shut down mode.
The Rate of Reinforcement.
That is probably one of the most common things that I need to help the owners with. If you have ever trained with me, you know I am all about progress, pushing the training forwards and not overusing treats... but everything has it's time and place! Does your dog know what you are expecting of them? Do you reward them frequently enough for them to know? Are you sure you reward the behaviours you want when the doggie is performing them - instead of 'missing' some? Especially if your dog is in the process of learning you need to reward quite often to be able explain what you actually mean. Sensitive/Distracted doggies will require us to be even more careful about that as if they don't know what we want they are going to be very likely to get confused and as a result they will move away to sniff, space out or get distracted.
The Quality of Rewards.
What are you using to reward your dog with? Was it your choice or your dog's choice? Seems a silly question, doesn't it? But have seen loads of people using the treats they like/ find comfortable to use for example little dry bone treats or heart-shaped biscuits... instead of something semi moist the dog will be able to chomp in seconds like pieces of chicken or liver cake. Also, maybe you will need to spend more food in training rather than giving your dog meals at home? Same applies to toys - is this a toy you like the looks of or you find it easy to use in training or is it the one your dog is absolutely crazy about? And last but not least... Social reward - is the pat on the head your dog's favourite? Are you sure? Or would they prefer for you to run around with them a bit? If you have a dog that is happy with anything you throw at them - great! Lucky you! But if you don't... This aspect is going to be the one to be looked at!
The way you Reward.
What do you do when you are rewarding your dog for something? Do you give them a treat/ toy? Cool... But how about making it a bit more of an event? This will mean that the rewarding will take more time and effort but it is going to be much more fun as well! Are you using food at the moment? Have your dog chase treats thrown on the ground, throw one in the air for them to catch, allow them to eat them up from your hand when you are moving away. Toy? Why not! But don't just hand it in to your dog, or drop somewhere for them to have for a few seconds. Make the toy alive, run with it, throw it, race your dog to it and have them win it a lot! It is supposed to be a game not 'payment done, let's move on' situation! 😉
More motivation = More engagement = More possibilities to make the dog braver!
No reward situations and mistakes.
Mistakes or situations when we don't have anything to reward the dog for happen and it's normal. No mistakes may actually mean you are just doing something the do already knows and you are not progressing anywhere. When training I try go go by this ratio: if I have 2-3 mistakes I assume the dog can't do a particular exercise for some reason at the moment - I'll make it easier in some way. But if have 2-3 perfect reps I can probably push the training forwards and make it more difficult. Unfortunately, some dogs don't take mistakes very well, and this is when they get distracted/ shy away. First of all, make sure your expectations are not too high and criteria not too difficult. Try not to think 'my dog should know that by now!' - I know sometimes it feels like it, but thinking that way won't help you or the dog even by an inch! I know the aspect of dealing with mistakes requires a very individual approach, but to give you some ideas..
Try using micro-breaks in sessions (I mentioned them in my previous blog) to make the 'rewarding' part longer than the exercise as such - very good idea for delicate and shy dogs.
After a mistake ask for an easy behaviour for example a spin or hand touch to keep the dog going, praise, and try the behaviour you wanted one more time.
Try shaping some very easy behaviours - this way of teaching allows the dog to learn that mistakes mean there will be another chance to try!
Don't take mistakes personally! Your emotion can have an immense impact on your dog!
I know the blog is quite detailed but frequently S/D Dogs will require us to have (or learn to have!) an eye for detail! The aspects I mentioned are not reserved only for S/D Dogs so I hope anyone will find something interesting here :)
Would you add anything else? Please share your ideas!
Next episode will be about 'chains and transitions' so all the moments when the dog is between the exercises/ behaviours. Can't wait to share it! 😄