Many Training classes want to see your dog succeed so they teach you how to get your dog to the behavior you want as quickly as possible. I am all about quick wins with my clients, but I also want them to understand how to move beyond the cookie in their hand. Also most training classes, mine included, keep teaching you stuff in class that require your clicker or cookies to teach new behaviors.
What about the stuff you learned in the first 2 weeks? Do we always use the clicker for that? How do I know when my dog “knows it.”
Moving beyond the Cookie
These are really great questions, and ones that don’t always get answered in your first 6 week class. Let’s unpack this a little bit and give you the path forward. The path away from the cookie in your hand.
First, your cookie should not be in your hand in the first place.
There is a fine line between bribery and training. Cookies in your hand lends itself to bribery. There is a time and place for luring your dog. (Luring means having your dog follow the cookie into position) If you are not careful, then the dog only learns to follow the cookie, and not how to actually perform the behavior. Make sure if you have to help your dog that you get rid of the lure as quickly as possible.
Second, once your dog is successful at a cue at an 80% rate, cut back your reinforcement.
We don’t have to hit 100% that’s impossible! You don’t listen 100% of the time! (go ahead and tell me you’ve never accidentally cut a yellow light too close. liar!) If your dog can perform the cue correctly 80% of the time then start to make it more difficult or reward every few repetitions. To make the cue harder, change the way you look (sit down in a chair, jump up and down, stand on one foot) or change your location (go outside, to the park, in the pet supply store, or as simple as move into the bathroom of your house)
Third, reward effort.
Is your dog putting forth effort to comply with you in this moment? Thinking is difficult for dogs, and often they are thinking about more than we realize. Lets look at Cargo at the park. When people walk by us on the trail, I will call Cargo to a “scatter” and toss food into the woods to keep her occupied while the people pass. If the people are passing slowly or have pets with them (I have seen people walk their cats in the woods) I will ask her to down in front of me. She knows how to down, she knows to stay there while stuff passes. If the people are talking and otherwise paying her no mind, she might get a cookie as they are right next to her (the most difficult part for her). If they are laughing and joking and have 2 dogs straining at the end of the leash, Cargo is going to get a heckin load of cookies. I know that it takes effort for her to stay laying in front of me, and not going to socialize, so I am rewarding the effort she is putting forth by choosing to stay.
So what happens if my dog chooses not to listen. (We all have those days, when we just don’t wanna) I go get them and put them back. If my dogs blow off a recall, they get put back on the leash. If Cargo breaks a stay then I go get her and put her back where I asked her to stay, even if the thing has passed. She is required to stay. If I have taken her back to the spot and asked her to lay down again, shes not getting rewarded for that because I would be rewarding the chain of lay down, go visit, lay down. I want to make sure my instructions are clear, and I am rewarding laying down and staying there.
If your dog can’t comply with what you are asking, then reevaluate your training. I know that Cargo can stay in the house, in the yard and wh
en Opie is running around, before I ask her to do it at the park. She can stay while I am gardening, while I am talking on the phone, and when I am cooking. (those things don’t happen often but make for great training sessions when they do) Once I know my dog understands the concept, then I expect more from them. By expecting more, you help your dog reach their potential, and help create the amazing companion you wanted when you got a dog.