« Back

To treat or not to treat, that is the question

09/07/2018 - Training Advice

I’ve seen many threads on social media recently where using food/toys when training dogs has been questioned.

My theory is…. You’ve asked your dog to do something for you, they’ve done the thing you’ve asked them to do, so you ‘pay’ them. Would you go to work for no money? If you went to work and you’d been promised payment but payment didn’t arrive, would you stop working? Probably!

When we work with our dogs, we’re entering in to a partnership, a contract and our dogs need to know that we’re going to pay out. Why break a contract with someone we love?

Of course, as we move on through training our dog we would switch from a continuous schedule of reinforcement to a variable

So….when should you use continuous?

It’s best to use a continuous schedule of reinforcement when teaching your dog something new. The reason for this is that it’s easier for them to make the connection between their behaviour and its consequence when they’re consistently rewarded for it. This only needs to happen initially, however. Once your dog is reliably performing the behaviour when they should, you can put it on an a variable schedule of reinforcement to maintain it.

Of course, if your dog isn’t motivated by food, another motivator can be used. I have a Labrador who is more motivated by a tennis ball than food. I know you’re all laughing hard right now but it’s true, honest!

So, I’ve been working on impulse control with her. I want her to know what ‘stay’ means. I want her to know this mainly for safety when exiting the van. What I’ve been doing when training her is hiding her tennis ball on a walk and opening the crate door slowly, if tries to exit the van before I’ve given her the release command of ‘ok’ I simply close the door again and repeat until the door is fully open and Breeze is staying with no barrier in between her and the exciting outside world. Once I’ve released her with ‘ok’, then I ask her to find her ball – her search, the ball, running back to me, that’s all reinforcing for her so she just loves learning as a result.

At the moment, she gets to search for her ball every time she gets it right. As we move on through training and I’m getting better results (so not having to gently shut the door to stop her jumping out) then I will ask her to hop back in the van, repeat and she will get to search for her ball every so often.

Happy dog – happy me!