Excellent, up beat video on how to get off the treat train.
Read my post for info on the Role of Rewards in training:
In the language of behavior training this is called “fading”.
Sudden stopping of a training reward can backfire and even result in anger.
Here’s an example most can relate to. Imagine you have worked the usual 40 hour week. You like your job well enough, but it is getting routine. It’s 4:30 PM on Friday & your Boss announces that no-one will be paid for the last day (or week) of work. You’d be mad. You’ve already worked for your pay and expect the promised rewards. This is how it works for dogs, especially, once they master a behavior and can do it well. They expect the reward to stay motivated. Suddenly, cutting off treats can reduce motivation by the dog for past learned behaviors and even future interest in learning. Why…, because the trainer just broke an “implied promise which reduces trust”. The promise “I do what you ask & I receive a food reward”.
Good trainers plan their training schedule from point of view of the dog. Knowing that dogs don’t do what we ask “because they love us”, just like our Kids. This is one of the universal “laws of learning” on the planet. All creatures are “designed to use behavior” to get what we need and want from their environment. People are particularly good at this skill. Even bacteria will move or grow in different directions based on what they find in the environment. Dogs need to benefit in some way to stay motivated. We use food because it is a powerful motivator for dogs, especially under 8 months of age. Like humans getting paid for a job, dogs will work for stuff other than food. Watch the video to see the first step to fading the food. Other rewards for dogs include: play, tug on toy, going for a walk, getting access to a favorite thing or place, attention, ear scratches, and often over-used phrase “Good Dog”. People love to be told “you have done a good job” so it works well for us. Not so much for dogs. Social rewards like being allowed to sniff other dogs butts is more inline with dogs value system.
Another way to replace the food treat as a reward is to immediately follow the food with something else, like an ear scratch, these are called secondary re-inforcers. Creating a secondary re-inforcers is a trick of metabolism. An event, person or object, that is paired with “something we really like”, gets the overflow of positive emotions which increases it pleasure in our subconscious. Think of movies and popcorn or hanging out with Grandma and cookies. This how the words “Good Dog” really work. But the timing must be fast and consistent for this to work well.
Here’s an example from my dog’s training. The dog is blind in one eye, so he hated the car because he experienced severe car sickness (vomited, diarrhea and peeing at the same time) as a puppy. After training him to sit in the car for food, with help of my husband, he was trained to ride in the car for food treats. I drove, my husband fave him bits of cheese. I didn’t want to have to give treats all the time while riding in the car, so I watched him to see what his favorite activity was, after leaving the car. He loved to great new people and gets lots of attention. So for one month, we went on one, short, car ride to the grocery store and asked people if willing, to pet the dog. Food treats during the car ride was replaced with food on arrival at a store. Then, slowly, I increased the time between arrival & treat to after he was out of the car, until he was out of the car and being petted by a new person. He loved it and now he leaps into the car, when I say “lets go for an adventure”. I replaced, food treats for riding in the car, with ,access to people/attention immediately after car rides. The dog added his own rewards to car rides when he noticed dogs or people on the side of the street. He barks, a favorite activity (which I ignore in this context), so that looking and barking became a natural reward. He stops barking when the dogs/people are out of site. The car ride is now self re-inforcing; because looking out the window became a secondary re-inforcer for barking. Barking was a natural reward for greeting people after the car ride, which replaced the beginning reward: the food treat. Rides are now rewarding for him whether he sees someone or not. I would have been happy to stop the training at the greeting people stage, but this is a good example of observing naturally occurring rewards and using them.
Next post I’ll talk about when naturally occurring rewards get in the way of training.