Laura Mars of Good Dog Training & Pup School spoke to us about the importance of reward based training, and how to tailor training for your hound's needs. Read Laura's tips below for how to continue to succeed in training your pets!
Set your dog up for success
Firstly, finding out exactly what motivates your dog is the key to successful training. Playing games, giving praise, rewarding good choices and developing a strong relationship are key components. Because food is a primary reinforcer it is a powerful tool to help us to achieve this.
Our dog’s daily food allowance can become a powerful tool in shaping the behaviours we want to grow, it enables us to reward the “yes” moments throughout the day, thus boosting results, our relationship, and provide a reinforcement rich life. Rewards reinforce and strengthen actions. If we reward the choices we want to develop now, then they are more likely to be repeated in the future.
Behaviours that are rewarded today, are more likely to be repeated tomorrow but dog training is a journey, rather than a single event, so keep those rewards coming.
Timing and method of delivery
Timing and the way we deliver rewards can massively enhance results. Calm reward delivery is important if trying to grow calmness but animating the reward by throwing it up in the air, for example, makes it more fun and rewarding when playing faster games.
If you managed to successfully recall your dog away from a fun distraction then calmly patted him and fed him a piece of kibble, he might think that was a pretty-poor deal. Yet, if instead you ran away as you recalled him, then bowled the kibble along the ground or threw it up in the air for him to catch he would probably find that much more fun therefore worth recalling for. As a result, your dog will be more likely to recall again next time.
Whenever possible I like to use my dog’s daily food allowance for training, but each dog is individual and there are times when kibble just isn’t going to cut it.
Mix it up – be unpredictable
Surprise your dog: play new games, make yourself unpredictable, be the most fun thing in the environment and surprise him with very tasty treats. Time and time again I see the difference a tasty high value reward can have in the early stages of learning, in a busy group setting and with dogs when they are feeling nervous or anxious.
Therefore, I always have good quality, high value training treats to hand. I like to use Innocent Hound treats and the venison sausage are always a hit in training classes. I like Innocent Hound treats because they are high value and clearly smell good to dogs, but I can also incorporate them into the dog’s daily food allowance safe in the knowledge that they are healthy, made with quality ingredients and dogs LOVE them.
Firstly, know what your dog likes. Is it toys, games or food? It’s not about whether you think the reward is good but does your dog?
This is often overlooked or underestimated. Reward value is important, particularly in the early stages of learning a concept, when faced with distractions, stress or a class environment and to guard against extinction of results.
Would you come away from the chocolate fountain for a dry cracker? I certainly wouldn’t and I doubt your dog will repeatedly recall away from that furry critter, or delicious (disgusting) morsel on the ground if you only give him a dry biscuit for his amazing efforts. However, I bet your dog recalls like an Olympic sprinter on Christmas day when you pull the freshly roasted turkey out of the oven.
Set your dog up for success
- Find out what motivates your individual dog
- Make learning fun!
- Deliver the reward in a way your dog finds rewarding
- Mix it up, be unpredictable and surprise your dog with tasty high value rewards
Food has the power to enhance learning: it can increase the levels of dopamine in the brain, increase focus and reduce fear and anxiety therefore set you both up for success. A delicious high value reward can be particularly helpful in early stages of learning, in the presence of distractions and when increasing the difficulty. Be generous, be fun, be unpredictable and don’t phase out those rewards. The environment won’t stop rewarding your dog so keep the rewards coming that way you have a better chance of success.