Exchanging food for behaviour is at the heart of understanding training our dogs with positive reinforcement.
Food drive and a willingness to work for food is present when anxiety is absent. Relaxed and happy dogs eat whereas many stressed dogs have supressed appetites.
The quickest and easiest way to fast track teaching exercises and reinforcing good manners is to use really good treats when your dog makes a right choice. Fresh cooked liver, roast beef, chicken, polony, sausages, frankfurts, other delicious fresh meats, cheese etc, are high end food treats.
Your dog is the best judge of which they prefer and for best results, use at least three different types of delicious treats even switching from good to better to best as the degree of difficulty increases.
Rewarding with a number of small pieces of food, one after the other, whilst praising “Good Dog!” is effective when your dog has done particularly well. Pairing excitement, praise, touch and food all aim to make training your dog enjoyable and helps them check in with you more than a handler that doesn’t interact with their dog.
Happy and relaxed dogs that ignore distractions and pay attention generally have interesting, creative and energised handlers that are very attentive to them and the environment.
Find opportunities to strengthen attentive behaviour during everyday life. Pay attention to your dog and you will in turn be rewarded.
Teaching a dog to pay attention is quite simple by reinforcing attentive behaviour offered, whenever and wherever you observe it. Say their name to grab their attention and be quick, generous, variable and unpredictable with a variety of great rewards. Repeat these steps throughout your dog's life.
Food need not be the only reward; toys, patting, play, or opportunities to partake in activities such as sniffing the ground and running with other dogs or whatever works for your dog can often be better rewards for your dog than food.
Obedience exercises are made up of a series of behaviours that are not inherently fun to repeat over and over again. Turn training into fun and treat the training like you’re teaching your dog a trick so the exercises become an activity to look forward to.
You don’t stop giving the food, smiles, praise, touch or toys once they grasp the concept of what you’re teaching them. Instead become variable and unpredictable with a wide variety of reinforcers that keep your dog guessing what you will use from one moment to the other. As you raise criteria, raise your rewards so when the degree of environmental difficulty is greatest you bring out your very best treats.
Once behaviour is learned, being quick, generous, variable and unpredictable with all your reinforcers is the way to go. For instance, sometimes we have the food on us, but do not give it to the dog, we use praise, petting and play instead. It’s not about providing a food treat each and every time.
Be generous with primary reinforcement (food) throughout the teaching phase and we keep treating through the repetitions it takes to achieve muscle memory of the task.
Use food in new environments until the behaviour has been generalised and remember to use better food and possibly more of it when distractions are abundant.
It’s the relationship that takes over when food rewards are not present, and its previous reinforcement history, clear cues and consistent handling that help the dog perform their best when you need them to.