Treat training is not bribery…Here’s why.

I can completely understand why it would be a worry for some dog owners and to be completely honest, you could easily come to a conclusion that you do not want to “bribe” your dog.

Just to clear it up. Treat training is a way to positively reinforce a behaviour you would like to happen again. However, to some confusion, this is not the only reinforcements you have to use. Some dogs would much prefer a toy than treats, or some may be happy with the praise from your voice. You work to figure out what works best for your dog and use it.

I know… but why should my dog only obey for a treat? Shouldn’t my dog obey me because it wants to please me?

The answer to this question for me is…in the middle. Your dog will always want to please you, but you have to ask yourself; am I asking my dog to obey a command that is unnatural and awkward?

We go to work day in, day out… And we get paid for doing so. Would you call being paid…bribery? I certainly don’t think about it this way. We just would not have an incentive to do so if we didn’t get paid. If we are asking something of our dogs, we need to remember that our dog would not naturally jump through hoops, give you it’s paw or roll over on command, so by asking them to do so, we need to give them an incentive to stay in this weird position.

We train our dogs to give them mental stimulation, but to them (even though they enjoy it) it is work! We are sending them to work and expecting them to complete the same work day in, day out.. but the reward is… Well not food, “because we don’t want to bribe them”

If something is working to make your dog happy and you are gaining the desired behaviour then it really does not matter if you need to use treats. It will just give them that little bit of incentive to carry on. If needed, you can slowly use less treats by “Jackpotting”. This means the dog will continue to perform the task not knowing when the next treat will be dropped. When training using this method, you want to give a treat to the better performed behaviours. For example if you ask your dog to sit, but he sits after many times of repeating, you may only praise with your voice, but if he sits as quick as you would like him too, he then gets the treat. This encourages your dog to perform better next time.

Figure out what works best for your dog and use that to your advantage. If your dog really likes a tug of war game, then use that… As long as it is reinforcing enough to perform your desired behaviour, then your flying.

Always question yourself, always look at what your asking of your dog and continue to learn. Once you learn what motivates your dog, learn how much you need and how long you need in order for him to complete the tasks. Always remember that your dog is following you, work as a team and enjoy yourselves.

“I swear dogs choose not to listen!”

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Photo edited by Hannah Briant

That smug look they make as they walk away, as if they have not heard your call, wagging their tail with their head held high. “Are they even listening?”. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Throughout my studies and my experience, I have come across so many situations when even I, question my own belief, but thankfully, there is an explanation.

That treat that is drooping down in front of him wafting of doggy goodness, has unfortunately met its match. It seems that something else is much more interesting. If the treat had a mind of its own, its almost like a slow motion scene involving the treat calling out “ wilson” “wilson”.. as the dog ponders off in the distance.

Whether it be a momentary relapse or something that your dog has not come across before, his mind is too far gone and all training forgotten. Now I know what most of us automatically do, or used to do.. we get louder and more angry. In a dogs mind, we must remember that this is not engaging or fun and the dog will definitely not want to return if this is what they are hearing. We need to take a step back and remember…they are not robots, they are dogs, with fall backs and mistakes just like us.

Sometimes we may need to reteach the command that is being used, perhaps it has not been properly reinforced. In this case why are we not using what our dog truly loves?. I mean every dog is pretty much food orientated but some dogs may like running, playing or even just being let off the lead can be a big reinforcement to something that has been done well. So lets take the example that your dog is off the lead walking casually beside you, and suddenly he runs too far ahead. Is there a trigger or a behaviour that you can watch for? Could you have interrupted earlier if you tried? What about if you ran off in the other direction instead of running after him, whilst calling his name…mmm I wonder. Try restarting 10 minutes a day training sessions to reintroduce a new command and an even better reinforcement, and then move this training and try again in an area with a few more distractions. This may be a way to start improving his response.

If a dog has just recently eaten, this can be a massive contribution to whether he will listen to you and be responsive. Maybe he is bored of the same treat you have been using since he was a puppy, or maybe he found something nicer in the cupboards that you were not aware of. With dogs, its all about pre-empting what is going to happen and why your desired behaviour did not happen. We can not predict everything, but the more we watch our dogs, the more we will learn and you will be surprised how many different signals are shown before a behaviour.

So to sum up and hopefully put a smile on your face, your dog is not choosing to ignore your commands, and unfortunately something better is just in your way. We need to rewind, find a way to reinforce your re-call, or what ever behaviour you are asking for. Remember that using something that they love will only build a much stronger bond with your dog, shouting and getting angry will only distance your bond. Don’t be fooled that a quick method works the best, it is all about setting your dog up for success, and making sure there will be as little fall outs as possible.

Hope I given you something to think about, or if not just made you chuckle, Happy Training, Dog Lovers!

You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks!.

So, for a while I have been offering my Canine Behaviour advice for free online and to people in Plymouth.
A woman contacted me about her dog who has anxiety but was unsure of being able to do anything as he is old.Whilst talking to a few people we came across that for years we have used the term “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I am aware of this being used when talking about humans, so I’m not sure if it was ever meant to be true for dogs. So, anyway after discussing this metaphor, I realised that it didn’t make sense in my head.Here is the reasons why.
I suppose the best way to explain it is that if you were trying to teach a kid that can already say a few words, to then create a sentence, it is easier than having to teach the kid how to say these words first, then say the sentence.If I go into a home and the dog has been living in this environment for 9 years, then this dog is going to be very aware of the rules and will already know the basics. I would then be able to then go in and fix the anxiety. I can use the commands the dog knows already, in order to change his association of why he doesn’t like the owners leaving. This will include lots of going in and out of the room and slowly increasing the time you leave. Of course there is a lot more to this.If I was to go into a new house where the dog was young, he/she may not know the commands needed in order to fix the behaviour. So before you even start you would need to teach this first. There are other ways around this but you can catch my drift.

Of course the real problem is actually changing the routine that the dog has known all these years. This is what could have caused the behaviour all along. So when training I make sure that I work slowly ensuring the dog gets used to the new routine. With an older dog you can not expect too much. If your training sessions are sticking to 10 minuets then you must remember that the dog may not generalise in everyday life.

If you are asking your dog not to follow you every time you go out the room, you can’t expect it to not follow you when the whole household get up and leave, as you have not done this part of the training yet.

Let’s face it, even us humans don’t like it when everyone leaves the room and is socialising without us.

I will update everyone on my journey and process as I go along and I hope you enjoy reading my blog.
Thank you