It All Goes Back To…..

December 29, 2009

Bet you thought I was gonna say “foundation”…wrong!  “relationship”…nope!  “desire?”…closer.  Wanna know what I believe is the biggest hole in most folks foundation training?  REINFORCEMENT, there you have it, the answer to all your problems.  The biggest most important component of a good foundation is establishing rewards your dog goes crazy for.  Rewards that we trainers can fit in our pockets such as food and toys are the main tools we have as positive dog trainers.  When you bring your new puppy home you will discover there are plenty of things they will value and find reinforcing but likely very few of them will be as easy to control as a game of tug or a morsel of food.  It could be things in the environment, other dogs, people, places or events, our job as dog trainers is to build value for interactive rewards like tug of war and food rewards such as puppy kibble.

When you start to think about all the places that you can go wrong in agility training, all the dogs struggling whether it be with motivational issues, dogs shutting down, dogs who stress over failure, dogs with no start lines, contacts, wide turns, off courses, dogs who are just plain slow or dogs who are distracted while working.  If the tug toy in your pocket where that million dollar reward the only thing that would stand between you and greatness would be timing and criteria.  The trouble comes when we are not patient in building up those reinforcers before moving forward onto the actual agility training.

I would have to say this is the biggest thing I have learned this year with regards to dog training.  To have Summit be able to walk into any environment and give me his 110% focus from 3 months old was not much to do with having a naturally focused puppy, it was the fact that he is so crazy about toys, tugging, fetching, playing, you name it.  I will admit that he has this drive for toys the day I brought him home but we have played and tugged and played and tugged to the point where he would choose tug over just about anything.  This lesson was then re-affirmed at the Greg Derrett seminar I attended last month.  It seemed that when working Preston and Riot all my training issues lead back to the same place…not enough value for the reinforcement.  Preston not driving off the start line fast enough when I am stationary, well I can’t tell you how many recalls I have done trying to build speed while standing stationary, not much has helped.  All my shelties tug and I use it as a reward in agility but they are not CRAZY over the tug the way Summit is.  If Preston was CRAZY about his tug reward he would have more of a reason to get to me quickly.  Then there is Riot who finds chasing and watching the other dogs running far more reinforcing than anything I have to offer her, she still will suck to equipment easily and ignore handling cues because she is not too concerned whether she gets the reward at the end, the chase is enough for her.

If you build lots and lots of value for a toy you will have a good head start with your foundation training and on your way to a good agility dog.  Of course just ask Summit about building value for food 🙂 We have been working on increasing the value for kibble as food rewards are important for certain behaviors.  Summit has been learning to gobble up a handful of food as fast as he can to star a game of tug.  When Summit is really high and excited such as while being restrained for a recall or in his crate just before being released to run with all the dog I take that as an oppertunity to build value for food.  He now gets that the faster he eats the food reward the faster he gets whatever it is that he wants.  I am pretty sure he would swallow a penny if I offered it to him now 🙂

So our winter training project for all dogs has been and will be raising the value of tug and food, it is not enough that they just tug or just take food, its gotta be worth a million bucks!


7 Responses to “It All Goes Back To…..”

  1. Love this blog post! You are absolutely right 🙂

  2. It sounds wise but I will have to give it a thought. 😉 Meanwhile we wish you a wonderfull 2010!
    All the best wishes from us from Sweden,
    Daniela and Puma 🙂

  3. Julia said

    Awesome post ! You are so ‘bang on the money.’ Have printed this out for my training diary as a reminder for my own BC puppy. Your blog has been a great motivator – please keep sharing.

  4. Wishy said

    Brilliant post! And your video of Summit at 7 months is so inspiring! Keep updating! You’re work with Summit is so interesting!

  5. Lee said

    I really enjoyed this topic. The hard part for me is when the dog “turns off” a reward. IE. the dog won’t take cookies in the park, do you march her all the way home so she’ll eat them? Or next trip out do something different before the dog gets to the “refusal” point?

    Thanks again for the post.

  6. Karin said

    thanks for a very interesting post. I see now that I have some work to do… 😉

  7. Esteban said

    Love your post, love your 7 minute training showcase video. Keep up the great work!

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