Unpredictable rewards in puppy training – Cambridge Puppy Training

changing rewards puppy training

We’ve talked many times about using rewards when training your pup, how to use them, when to use them and sometimes WHAT to use. Today, we’re going to focus a little bit on what to use. We’ve discussed schedules of reinforcement, the timing of the delivery of rewards, but what exactly are you delivering? And when??

We all try to reward our dogs when they do something right. I’ve talked before about using ‘life rewards’, things which are in our every day lives that our dogs LOVE. For example, a run in the park, a play in the garden, a game with you, a cuddle etc. I may have even mentioned before that it can be REALLY handy to write a list of your pups favourite things! A ‘rewards list’, if you will, a little note to stick on your fridge as a reminder to you that sometimes, a boring dog biscuit just isn’t going to be quite reinforcing enough. If you think more carefully about WHAT you are rewarding with, what exactly the reinforcer is, I can categorically tell you your pups performance will improve. Say, for example, you recall your dog from the garden a few times a day, whether he takes 2 seconds or 10 seconds to ‘come’, you grab a little dog biscuit and he gobbles it up dutifully. Did he enjoy it? Yes of course. Are the chances of him coming in the next time you call him increased? Probably. But is the quickness (latency) of his response, the reliability of his response and the keenness and enthusiasm increased? Likely not. So, how do we improve this reliability?? How do we get from “I’ll come and get my biscuit when I’ve just finished sniffing this bit of grass”, to “Oh my goodness mum called me I’m coming right now!!”??

Well, one thing we can do is mix up our rewards. A list of my dogs favourite things would look something like gerthis:

  • ball play
  • ham/meat
  • stuffed kong
  • cheese
  • tuggy play
  • family/friends visiting
  • strokes/verbal praise

So, if I am recalling my dog in from the garden 5 times a day, I will try to mix in all of these rewards throughout the recalls. The first time, she may get a little throw of a ball, the second time she may get a stroke and some verbal praise, the third time she may get a bit of ham etc etc. We are aiming to be unpredictable, we are aiming to be reinforcing. And fun!

If you at walking your pup in the park, you arrive at 3pm and let him off to play, you need to leave at 3.30pm. If you then call your pup at 3.29pm, you pop his lead on and leave, even if you DO reward him with your boring trusty biscuit which he dutifully takes 10 times a day for ‘coming when called’, it’s not terribly exciting and reinforcing is it. He’ll likely get that boring biscuit whether he comes now, in 2 minutes, or 10 minutes, because we are always told to reward our pups whenever they DO ‘come’.

Why not try this:

  1. 3pm, arrive at park – ask for ‘watch’, and let pup off lead
  2. 3.05pm – call pup to you and have a game of ball for 30 seconds, send out to play again
  3. 3.10pm – call pup to you and have a cuddle/fuss with verbal praise
  4. 3.20pm – call pup to you, give a couple of bits of tasty sausage
  5. 3.29pm – call pup to you, give him a game of tuggy for a second, pop his lead on and let him carry the tuggy home

These are of course the things MY dog enjoys, think about what your pup enjoys? Your pup may enjoy other things, think about what you can take with your on walks? Life rewards you could incorporate? I can nearly 100% guarantee you that your pups general performance will improve if you have some unpredictability in the rewards you use. YOU are in control of all the things your pup loves, only you can provide these things, changing them and retaining some unpredictability will keep your pup interested in you, he will never really know what exciting reward he will get, so I bet he will race back to you ten times quicker to find out!!

If you have any questions or would like more information about the services I offer, just get in touch! Email: puppies@cceg.co.uk

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