An important aspect of praise and reward is evident when teaching a dog a new skill or practising established commands. We use them to mark the right behavior and to promote other desirable outcomes This article will look at a few factors when it comes to dealing with your dog and the prize.
What is a Reward? A reward can be many things – not just a treat or a piece of food. In addition to treats and food, a reward can be verbal praise, a toy, freedom to play or even physical touch – basically everything that is important to your dog.
Which rewards to use? All dogs are different and it is up to you to understand your dog and figure out what is important to him or her. If I am working with a real toy-motivated dog that is not too food-motivated, a toy, in this case, may be a better motivator than a treat. On the other hand, if I am working with the same dog and the toy becomes too much of a distraction, I may switch to food to help the dog concentrate a little more. Of course, I will bring the toy back and work his distraction factor that the toy originally gave us.
When to reward? Our general timing is crucial when working with our dogs and the accuracy of your timing when it comes to rewards are no exception. It depends on the specific skill that you are working on but a general rule is that you have 2 seconds to mark a behavior for them to make an association.
Let’s talk about these different skills and point out the right time to reward your dog, what to reward and why.
- Rewarding during loose leash walking – If the goal of loose leash walking is to remove tension in the leash, our reward should be given out as soon as slack enters this leash even if it is just for a few seconds or steps. The dog has to know when they are currently practicing the desired behaviour, even if it is only for a short period of time. If you mark the correct behaviour, you will see the length of time the dog is on the loose leash, and you will be able to travel more distances on the loose leash. When it comes to loose-leash walking, I am a big fan of verbal praise. We are able to reward the dog at the right time while still keeping the dog on the loose leash walking. Food or toys will quickly outline the dog from the correct position to receive the reward.
- Rewarding during the recall – Our definition of come or here is to get the dog to you and to remain within touching distance of you. It does not mean to come within 5 feet and stop. Neither does it mean to come to me and continue on. The timing of marking a recall should happen when the dog has completed the task – i.e. to be within touching distance If you would congratulate your dog verbally as soon as they turn around and come into you, the dog often thinks that they have finished the command and quickly move on to something else – making the recall not finished yet.
At the moment you have many options for rewarding a recall. Food can easily be used because the dog is right in front of you, a toy can be thrown and physical touch is awesome also. Be sure to mark the correct behavior within 2 seconds and use the appropriate reward for the situation and your dog – your dog has to get something out of it!