No more pocketfuls of treats!
One of the big fears for would-be dog trainers is that after using treats to positively reinforce their doggy students, they will be forever reliant on having a pocketful in order to keep their canine responsive.
Not only can some dog treats set you back a lot of money, if you overuse treats as rewards you run the risk of tainting the working relationship with your pet, leading to them constantly begging or performing tricks unbidden in order to get their chops around some more food.
There’s a good reason why most dog trainers will start out using food to reinforce behaviour – for most canines, food comes at the top of the list of their initial ‘desires’. There are other ways that you can positively reinforce your hound, so that you won’t be forever faking a dip into your pocket in order for them to perform the simplest of tasks.
Try using one of these alternatives to avoid to treats and get on the path to streamlining your training technique:
Depending on the space that you are training in, a good alternative to giving your dog one of the things that it wants most (more food!) is to give it the next thing on its ‘most-wanted list’: a bit of freedom! Although it might seem counter-intuitive to let your dog off the leash (and out of control) half-way through a training session, this may well be just the thing to get him excited to perform the next trick.
This might not be the best method of reinforcement if you’re attempting to teach basic commands such as ‘Stay’ or ‘Heel’, but works just fine for tricks.
It may sound cruel, but controlling how much your dog plays with his favourite toy can be a good strategy in the long term. As long as the dog is focused and keen on reclaiming the toy, then you will have leverage over them. Use the favoured toy in the same way that you would use a dog treat, allowing them to have free use with it for a few minutes after successfully completing an action.
You might well find that you run through dog toys a little quicker, but this problem can be solved by buying your pet sturdier toys and swapping them out with dental sticks from time to time.
Every owner wants to think that their pet is always having fun but, in truth, our dogs are more similar to us in respects of how often we ‘play’. If we spend all our time playing then the physical act of it no longer becomes appealing, there needs to be a significant portion of our time not playing so that we can appreciate the joy of it all the more.
Try engaging your dog in specific ‘play games’; these are activities that you know that he enjoys but only employ after he’s performed a desired action.
There’s no reason why a good pat on the back can’t work just as well a tasty treat. The key to using physical contact instead of food is finding the right form of petting. If your dog has learned a difficult, physically demanding task then he’s not likely to appreciate a terse pat.
Pay attention to how your pet responds to your petting and utilise the ones they favour most when they complete tasks that are particularly difficult.
As with all training techniques, you may find that you’ll have to try a few methods before you strike on the winning formula – just try not to despair. Remember: Every dog is different!