“Timing in life is everything …” I don’t remember anymore where I heard this quote, but I did once, somewhere and it “stuck” for me. It is one on my personal list of “light bulb” moments that helped me progress from a hobby “pet” trainer to a more skilled instructor. To me, it is one of the “truest” statements around and is especially true for me when it comes to training.
It is also very important to our dogs as they live perpetually “in the moment.” They remember earning a reward of value to them as they are doing something. “Value” was something I expanded on last week and promised this week I would share why it is important when related to training.
Timing of Dog Treats
Timing is of critical importance to remember when we are teaching our dogs something “new” that we want them to remember and be able to repeat after adding a verbal “cue” for them to repeat the behavior as we move forward in our training with them. Timing and the reward itself are both of equal importance in our training equation when a applying a process to the art of training behaviors.So now, you are ready for my training “formula” in a step by step description
- An offered behavior (encouraged or freely offered)
- Is rewarded (with something of value to the dog) and thus reinforced (here is where the importance of type and timing is so critical)
- The behavior is repeated and reinforced
- You add a verbal or physical cue and continue to repeat the steps
Practiced over time, consistently following the process steps above and kaboom! Just like that – you have a named behavior in your repertoire of things your dog knows! Okay, yes, it becomes more complex as you progress, but you already know I’m a die hard “foundation” skills girl and a solid standard repeatable process is key in the foundation for success.
Why Shape Dog Behaviors?
Why are these so important to our dogs as it helps build drive and performance? Good question. Let’s take a hypothetical experiment to virtually test the theory. In our equation, we have two average, every day ‘Joe’ dogs, Rover and Spot.
Rover is a classically food driven dog that has a “I live to eat” mentality. Everything Rover does from the time he gets up in the morning and stretches to the time he curls up in his dog bed is reinforced consistently with a food reward.
Rover has a wide vocabulary of behaviors that have been given names that he readily will offer when he hears a cue because he has been rewarded consistently using our equation theory above.
Rover knows a cue when he hears it and responds with an offered behavior and never misses an opportunity for a food reward. Rover also has a “person” in his life with impeccable timing who never or very rarely misses an opportunity to reward Rover with a food reward on the top of his list of “things I love to eat.”
Spot has a “I can take it or leave it – no big deal” reaction to food. He really just likes to hang out, sniff the wind and warm the couch more often than not. Except when he hears his person’s voice say, “Toy?” and produce that most prized of all things in life, a tuggy. The sight of the toy sends Spot into a jump up and down to beat the band, nearly flip over frenzy of joy every single time that toy comes out of thin air.
Spot also has an extraordinary vocabulary of cues in his brain that link to behaviors because every time Spot is asked to offer a behavior he earns that most prized moment – a game with the tuggy.
Spot’s “person” also has excellent timing when it comes time to produce the reward so Spot, who doesn’t care for food but does live to play, has learned that offering a response on cue earns what he wants most.
When you apply this simplest of training equations to canines consistently as described above in our two opposite end of the spectrum dogs, they quickly learn that good things come when they offer behaviors and begin to look forward to spending time with us to get the good stuff they want. Keeping in mind, I’ve told you I believe all dogs are very self-serving you can now see how I get what I want from them leveraging what they want that I have. Therein lays the key to building drive in performance.
Over time, you begin to apply other processes like variable schedules of reinforcement and chaining behaviors into more complex skills on cue to add to the vocabulary of your canine. But in early stages, when broken down into the smallest steps for you both, they are as simple as the keys in this little article.
Next week …I’ll be talking more about foundation skills that, to me, all dogs should have and how to leverage those into a training program that is part of life for my dogs. It’s game play!
Yes, learning in my house is always coupled with fun and play and how I have chosen to teach my dogs the many things we do, from competition level obedience or agility – to just living in the house together on any given Sunday, it is all the same. The focus is really on making things fun and not break your back work around here. Yet, somehow we always manage to get quite a bit done on the ‘to do’ list with bright eyes and tails wagging.
Until then, always remember, paws up, play, run and laugh like a dog!