Friday, 29 January 2010

The importance of rewards.

Sparky and I had our first Obedience class last night (first step on the ladder to Agility classes). General gist of it: I should have more faith in my dog. I was nervous, he was awe inspiring. After a mad first 5 minutes he settled right in and was one of the best behaved dogs there.

But one of the things I really noticed about the other owners was how little they rewarded their dogs.

Take, for example, just one of the exercises we did. We had all the dogs (14 I think) in a circle in sit-stays and we took turns to walk our dogs around, weaving in and out of the other dogs. Sparky got a treat everytime another dog passed him and he didn't break his sit-stay. When it was our turn to walk he got a treat everytime we passed one of the more excitable dogs and randomly for passing the other dogs.

The other owners rarely rewarded during the sit-stay and generally only gave one reward at the end of the walking. Which meant that if their dog did a perfect heel all the way around but broke it to sniff the last dog then their pooch had just been rewarded for sniffing, all memory of the perfect heel gone.

Another example was the recall exercise. For me it went a little like this:

"Sit. Wait." Walk away
"Here!" Treat
Lure Sparky from front position to heel position.
"Sit." Treat.
Walk away, repeat.

For the other owners it seemed to go a little like this:

"Sit. Wait." Walk away.
Lure dog from front to heel position.
"Sit." Treat.
Walk away, repeat.

In case you can't count, that's Sparky getting two treats for every one that the other dogs were getting. That's also Sparky getting rewarded for his recall, rather than his final sit. And you could tell the difference! The other owners were having real trouble getting their dogs to sit in front of them, the dogs kept running around them in circles, clearly unsure of what they were supposed to be doing!

I must have used several large handfuls of treats in the hour I was there. The guy sitting next to me used a small bag of cubes of cheese. Maybe 20 in the entire hour, if that.

Rewards are important! Rewards tell your dog what he is doing right but, more importantly, they only do that if they're delivered when your dog is doing something right! Giving one reward after your dog has finished walking to heel is never going to get the point across. Giving several rewards whilst your dog is heeling will. If you're training something that can't be treated at that exact moment then use a clicker or a marker word, something to bridge the gap from behaviour to reward. Something to tell your dog that that, right there, is exactly what I want you to do.

Brainy Sparky approves.

More rewards, less confusion. Kthxbai!

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