Oh Behave™ Dog Training Blog

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Unpredictable Rewards-Predictable Behavior

with 2 comments


Just try to motivate this guy

“My dog will only come if I have a treat in my hand”.  I hear this complaint often from people that have taken a basic obedience course, but did not follow through with fading the lure, using variable rewards and also using non-food rewards.

During the learning phase, we reward every time the dog offers the desired behavior (continuous reinforcement).  So, while we are teaching “come”, we reward him every time he offers the behavior when cued.  I try to stack the deck in my favor by making the distance short and using high value rewards.  Once the dog predictably offers the behavior on cue, we become unpredictable. with the rewards.  We give a reward after an unpredictable amount of correct responses (variable ratio schedule of reinforcement). This produces a high and steady rate of responses.  In fact, there is an entire industry out on SR 7 based on variable ratio schedules of reinforcement.  We call it gambling.

I recently had a booth at an animal adoption fair.  I tried to speak to as many people as possible because, the more people that interact with me, the greater the likelihood that I will gain more clients/students.  So here’s the analogy.  If you only treat your dog when the dog sees a treat or treat bag present, your dog will crack the code.  How are you going to motivate a dog that knows he’s not going to get any reward if there is no treat in sight?  It would be nice if clients were that predictable.  Wouldn’t it be nice if all of the people that were going to be paying clients, had $100 bills pasted to their foreheads?  Why would I spend my time speaking to anyone except the people with the $100 bills on their foreheads?

Here’s the trick… be unpredictable.  Once the dog has learned a cue like “come”, put away the treat bag.  Ask the dog to come in a distraction free environment, from a distance of 12 inches.  When the dog offers the behavior, say “yes” (marks the behavior), then go get the dog a treat from the pantry.  Then be variable.  Do it again and praise him (no treat).  Do it again and take him for a walk.  Do it 2 more times with only praise.  Do it another time and play fetch.  When you use markers like a clicker and “yes”, the dog will still associate the rewards with the behavior even if a little time passes in between the two events.

Have some fun being so unpredictable that your dog won’t ever crack the code!


2 Responses

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  1. Thanks for sharing some good advice here! Keep posting!


    September 25, 2012 at 1:23 am

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