Join Date: Apr 2014
Location: Ontario, Canada
Why Treats Don't Always Work
I am in the habit of using treats to train my dog to do the basic obedience routine for schutzhund/IPO. The downside of this is you cannot use treats/rewards during a trial. If the dog is only focusing on you to get the reward, HOW do you keep its focus without the reward??
Lightbulb moment after reading Monique Anstee's blog!! (Monique is on the Canadian schutzhund team, and competed in the WUSV championships in Holland this past fall.)
The Naughty Dogge
My friend’s son struggled with reading, despite her fabulous parenting. Reading was difficult for him, which removed all of his motivation. Picking up a book made him anxious, not happy.
We cleverly put him on a positive reinforcement schedule, where each reading got him a prize. It worked like a hot ****, and he turned into a reading machine. However, there was a giant consequence that neither of us had anticipated. He developed no love for reading, and we had taught him to speed read to cash out for his prize. He was reading only for the end result of the prize, and not for the reading. We had failed to teach him the enjoyment of the book itself. We were trapped; prizes had gotten him reading, but as soon as we removed the prizes, his reading would be gone. His behavior was temporary and dependent upon the reward.
This happens when we are training our dogs too. My brilliant German friends realized this concept with their dogs, and while of course they are training with positive reinforcement, the emphasis and the entire success of their training program is based on the emotions before the reward, that happen during great work. If we only work for a prize, the love of the work gets lost along the way. However, if we can build up the dog’s emotions for the work – the work itself will become the reward.
My friend and I quickly realized this too. With her son, before any reward was given, she told him how clever he was, and asked questions about his work that he was able to answer. His pride was built by his mother’s excitement with how clever he was. He received feedback and realized reading made her proud, and she believed him to be very clever. Once she had developed pride in him for his reading, it was easy to remove the prizes and maintain the reading. He continues to be an avid reader and now reads to his younger brother every day.
I frequently talk about the flaws of positive reinforcement. Everything in life has flaws. It doesn’t mean the method is wrong. Positive Reinforcement must be used to train dogs and is the best way to teach any behaviour. The good news is this flaw can be worked around.
We can put pride and joy into our dog's work by simply being happy with them, and telling them that. Step one is always making sure you genuinely tell them when you are happy with them – by speaking from your heart.
Many people have no idea how to talk to their dogs. Often our talk is demeaning to them. We talk down like they are weak babies. Or we get shrill, in an over-excited cheer-leader voice that also indicates they are weak. Pride and Joy are not reflected by increased volume or pitch. Try using your voice to express different emotions, and see if your dog believes you. You will know by watching their tail rise and starting to get higher and higher.
Getting more work-ethic from your dog, by using emotions to make them proud of their own work, while a very easy concept to understand, can be a challenge to execute. We are forced to control our voices and mental place in our heads. Most people train with one tone of voice only, but this method is going to force you to come up with many. However, once you learn it, you will have unearthed a secret that will make every dog (and child) in your life adore you, and want to please you.