IntroductionThe most effective way to train an animal is by using some form of reward for good behaviour. If, at the same time, you can find some appropriate way to punish the bad behaviour, then that is good too.
Food is an effective form of reward but the problem is that the dog can become dependent on food treats and will bargain with you. It becomes a kind of negotiation where the dog sizes up the reward and decides whether to obey. No reward equals no obedience. When you try to stop using rewards the dog stops obeying. This is entirely avoidable, and the aim is to have a dog that needs only occasional food reward.
The first thing to do is make sure you are using the right rewards. Some dogs will not work for treats; some prefer games or contact. Some dogs will not work hard enough for a food treat but will work very hard if the only time they get fed is during training. Find out what it is that your dog likes and then withhold it in all but the training situation. The following illustration is about food rewards but it is equally appropriate to games or other rewards. This is not an instruction on how to train; it is about how to use reward. The actual process of training is dependent upon what the dog is being taught.
The rules for using reward
During the training process you should repeat the sequence of 'command (what you tell the dog to do), response (what the dog does), reward' over and over again until the dog has a pretty good idea of what to do. Then move onto stage 2.
Once the dog is on this kind of random reward patter, you can also alternate the reward; sometimes give a pat on the head, sometimes food and sometimes a game. This also increases the addiction because the dog can never be sure what the reward will be.
Concentrate on training one thing at each session, and don't start giving random rewards until the dog is doing all of the things you want exactly as you would like. Once you have a whole set of perfected behaviours you can go onto Stage 3. for all of them.
If you are using 'clicker training' it is important to remember that the clicker must always indicate the delivery of a reward. To wean dogs off reward with a clicker you follow the same routine as above. Start by clicking every behaviour you want, then click better behaviours and give a better reward after the click. Finally click and reward randomly and give extra good rewards just as mentioned above.
Just a couple of final tips:
It is easy to understand why. If someone shouted angrily at you in a foreign language, what would you do? I would think about running away! That is exactly what a dog will often think about too. By talking quietly and always using the dog's name you are teaching him or her to listen to what you are saying, which enables them to concentrate better.
© Jon Bowen 2000
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