When it comes to using treats in training there is one concern at the top of most peoples list: “I don’t want him to only work for the food!” Indeed we see many cases where people have been put off using food because their pet is most responsive when they have a treat visible in their hand, and less responsive any other time. This is a highly undesirable situation, because most of the time when we need our pets to do something we will be empty handed.
The situation described above is the result of a common training error, which unfortunately leads many people to write off treats from their training entirely. Instead, why don’t we look at the different ways we can use treats with our pets.
Most commonly, people use a treat as a lure. This means they show their pet the treat, and use it to move or guide their pet into the behaviour they want (raise the treat for a sit, lower it for a down). Using lures can be a quick and effective way to get a behaviour started, but when you fail to fade that lure out in the early stages of training things start to go wonky.
Treat. Play. Love. will help you to learn to use treats as rewards, or reinforcers, which come after the behaviour has happened (like a pay check for a job well done). We can keep the treats tucked safely out of sight, and only bring them out once the job is done. To guide, or shape, a new behaviour we might initially use a food lure, or we could use our body language, good timing, or a target. By using the treat after the behaviour, our pets need to focus on us (not the food) if they are going to figure out how to get the job done. This is a much more desirable situation!
An important, and often forgotten, part of any training program is to change the rate of reward from a constant (every correct response gets rewarded) to a variable (only some get rewarded) schedule. By gradually expecting more from your pet as they become skilled at the job you’ve given them, they will become more persistent training partners who can work for longer periods of time without needing a treat. Rewards can also come in the form of praise, affection, games, toys, etc, depending on what your individual pet enjoys most.
A good human example is our pay check. It’s a fair bet that we would stop turning up to work if our boss stopped paying us. Of course we don’t get our pay check in little bits day-by-day, we maintain a high standard of work (i hope) over the course of the pay period (usually 1-4 weeks). Daily we might be rewarded by thanks from a co-worker, personal satisfaction at doing something well, etc.
This is what we want to aim for with our pets – good work ethic between pay checks, and loads of “life rewards” to keep them positive from day to day. Not sure where to start? Get in touch and we can set up a training session, or point you in the direction of some great group training classes where you can learn how to use treats to their greatest effect. Train smart, not tough!