What does your dog like?
Identify your dog's primary reinforcers (PR), those things
your dog wants and will work hard to attain. It could be a favorite
toy, a specific kind of food (identify each one your dog likes
and rank them), playing tug or fetch, social interaction such
as petting and praise.
Reinforcers should be mixed up to surprise your dog. Use multiple
reinforcement (extra quantities of treats, a longer tugging
session, for instance) for training breakthroughs. This can
be extremely effective.
Rank your rewards
To train most effectively, rank from low to high, your list
of reinforcers. Which ones have the highest value to your dog?
Match the reward to the behavior being trained and the situation.
For example, in a highly distracting environment and you know
that your dog's focus will be different and more difficult to
maintain, use a very high value reward. Sit down now and make
a list, then number them from most favorite to least favorite.
This will be helpful to know when you are training for different
behaviors. (See Rewards List handout for ideas.)
As a rule of thumb, for active behaviors, use active reinforcers.
Examples of this include tugging or chasing a ball will be a
reward for taking a series of jumps. A stationary activity,
such as holding a contact can be rewarded with low-level food
It's starting to "CLICK"! (Secondary Reinforcers)
Secondary reinforcers are powerful communication tools. A secondary
reinforcer, such as a clicker, is associated with the primary
reinforcers, such as food or toys. It is used as a behavioral
marker (also known as an event marker or bridge). A clicker,
or the use of the word, Yes! are both secondary reinforcers
used before the primary reinforcer, such as food, is given.
The secondary reinforcer always comes first and is immediately
followed by the primary reinforcer (food, tugging, etc.). Use
of the secondary reinforcer is central to good clear behavior
and it is critical that it occurs at the exact moment that your
dog is performing the desired behavior. It marks the exact behavior
that will then be reinforced with the use of a PR such as food,
toy, game, praise, etc. (See the article "Clicker Training")
Timing is everything
If you want to click and treat for a sit, and your dog sits
but then stands at the moment you click, what is being rewarded,
the sit or the stand? You intended to reward the sit, but inadvertently,
because your timing was off, the stand was marked instead. So
timing and your attention to your dog's actions are very important.
Sometimes it's difficult to reward at the exact moment that
the desired behavior is performed, especially since that could
happen at a distance away from you, the handler. The SR acts
as a bridge between the behavior and the reward. The PR should
come directly after the SR, but it buys us some time, and timing
is vital. The biggest training error is being late with the
secondary reinforcers, such as the clicker.
Hitting the Jackpot!
Reward extremely well when your dog completes a particularly
difficult behavior. "Jackpot" your dog, or give a
"mega-reward", after a particularly exceptional effort.
Just dole out the treats and keep giving them. This will make
quite an impression!
Recommendation: For more about reinforcement and other great
training information, read In Focus by Deborah Jones, PhD and
Judy Keller, as well as the In FOCUS Foundation Work DVD.
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