Often when we’re training our puppies, we make the all too common mistake of only really practicing when we’re in ‘training mode’. We set aside a few small sessions a day to train, and we dutifully go through our basic obedience exercises. However, what is the problem with this? Our pups don’t generalise the behaviours they learn. They see a lead, they see some treats or treat pouch, and they know ‘it’s time to work woohoo!’. They will of course enjoy it and will likely perform well, however do we not want our pups to perform well ALL day? Whether we’re in the middle of a training session or not? Yes, we do.
So, how do we solve this? Largely, we feel we can’t ask our pups to perform certain behaviours throughout the day because a) you have found he will only work in a training session and the behaviour is not proofed or generalised, or b) you don’t ask for the behaviour because you don’t have a treat/toy to hand to reward.
There’s a few points to consider (and combat!) here:
1. I have talked about the importance of generalising and proofing behaviours, a dog will not understand how to sit/stay in the park if he has only ever practiced this in his living room or training class. So, quite simply, practice in a variety of environments.
2. You don’t ask because you believe your pup won’t perform. Confidence! Have confidence in your pup! Set a pup up to succeed and he likely will, so believe he will and you’ve won half the battle.
3. You don’t have a treat/toy to hand to reward? Well……let me help you there.
We actually have a way of capturing behaviours and rewarding them using ‘reward stations’. Reward stations are essentially little ‘stations’ around the house/garden/wherever you like, filled with tiny bits of treats (or toys if your pup is toy motivated), which are right there ready for when you need to mark and reward good behaviour. For example, you have a guest coming over, your pup is a notorious ‘jumper’, your guest comes through the door and your pup doesn’t jump but instead sniffs something on the floor or turns round to look at you, but OH NO you haven’t got a treat to mark and reward that!! Noooo!!! What are we to do?! Panic not, put a small pot of treats high up near your front door, and voila you have a reward station where your guests (or you) can quickly reward your pup for offering a desirable behaviour. You don’t want to spend lots of time practicing a great behaviour, like your ‘watch’, and then when it really counts, have no reinforcement on hand. You can place these little ‘reward stations’ anywhere in your house where you feel ‘problems’ will occur. Likely the front door, back door, kitchen or garden. Wherever you like!
Another example may be you are cooking, you are busy and glance down to see your usually bouncy puppy laying down or chewing a toy, you think ‘my goodness that’s great I must mark and reward that’ but oh no you have nothing on you to give him! If you have a little ‘reward station’ in your kitchen on top of the fridge for example, you can quickly toss a treat/ball down and reward.
These are basic examples but I hope you can see how this would work. You don’t need to have treats as I said, anything your dog enjoys is a reward. Remember it’s only a reward if it’s reinforcing to your dog! Remember the verbal marker I talk about so much? This is where it would come in hugely handy, you can mark the exact behaviour you wanted. If we just praise with ‘good girl that was so great!’ your pup will not know if it is being praised for sitting/laying, getting up, looking at you, sniffing the carpet, think of ALL the behaviours that occurred in the 5 seconds it took you to praise and I bet there are a few! We want to mark the EXACT behaviour we liked and want repeated, so use your verbal marker.
It’s worth mentioning you do not need to have these stations forever, this is a short term measure to help you reward desired behaviours in the very early stages of puppyhood. Try and think of this as marking and capturing behaviours, rather than asking our pups to do something using the treats we have dotted about the house as a lure. This isn’t an extension of lure/reward training, this is the capturing of behaviours we want to see again. Puppies WILL offer desirable behaviours, we just need to be there to capture them.
If you would like more information about anything discussed just get in touch!