What is a reinforcer?
A reinforcer is anything positive that motivates your dog to carry out a behaviour. This could be a piece of food, a toy, a life reward. Not all dogs are food motivated. This does not mean you cannot train your dog. Finding out what motivates your dog and using it to reinforce behaviour will increase your success.
What is a life reward?
These are giving your dog access to something in the environment. An example of this is asking your dog to sit (the behaviour) before going outside (the life reward). If your dog offers a loose lead, the life reward is moving forward.
The Three D's
Distance, Distraction, Duration
These three components are very important in dog training. They all need addressing to proof a behaviour. In order to do this one must be tackled at a time. Once you have practised one, you can move on. If you are struggling in your training stop and think, are you asking too much? are you asking for more than one of these at a time before they are learnt?
A good example of this is 'STAY'
Distance - Your animal must stay in position while you walk away creating distance between you both
Distraction - You could be working multiple animals, have a toy present, noises in the distance
Duration - This is the length of time the animal has to stay in position
Think about it...If you were training a dog for the first time to STAY - you ask them to stay put while you walk 10 metres away, there are dogs playing in the distance and they have to stay put for 2 minutes. Far too difficult! build up your dog for success, break it down!
"My dog has sooo much energy, he needs a good run"
A very common statement made by dog owners, especially new puppy owners. Exercise is important for animals however you need a healthy balance. Over walking a puppy can cause serious issues with the health due to bone growth. The general rule is add 5 minutes to their walk, per month of age (E.g. if they are 4 months old, walk them 20 minutes).
So how do you get rid of the energy?
Mental stimulation is crucial for animals! Remember being at school? You would be more tired after maths than sport. Channel the excess energy into brain games. This could be a treat ball, kong, scatter feeding, hide toys for them to find.
It does not have to be, you can make brain games out of household items or you can buy ones. Some home made ideas include:
- A bun tray with a treat in each hole. then cover each treat with a tennis ball and watch your dog figure out how to remove them
- Pile all your dogs toys up and sprinkle treats all over them and under them. This will engage their nose and they will start to seek out the yummy treats.
- If your dog enjoys shredding, get a cardboard box or toilet roll tube, fill it with a mixture of treats and ripped up paper. (It may make a mess but it takes minutes to pick up, you have a happy tired dog for a minutes clean)
- Ditch the food bowl, scatter your dogs kibble in the grass so they have to find it.
Using a marker in training tells your dog that they got it correct. This can be in the form of a clicker or a word such as, YES or GOOD. The marker is used at the exact point that the dog got the behaviour correct. You then have 5 seconds to deliver a reinforcer to your dog (a treat, toy, life reward). Markers make training more efficient, the animal learns quicker, It helps us keep up with them. This is because they have a clear understanding of what they did correct. The behaviours that are positively reinforced have a higher probability of being repeated.
There are some key points before you get started!
- The marker is a promise, a guarantee, if you say it you pay it!
- Sometimes we get excited and mark too early or at the wrong thing. We still reinforce our animal. In order to help them we can sometimes lure them into the position with a piece of food before the delivery.
- We only mark once for each correct moment
- This is more common with clickers, try not to click more than once without a reinforcer in between. This can confuse your animal.
- We need to charge the marker
- Before using the marker we can teach the animal what it means to give them a head start. This is very simple. Click or use your verbal marker, pause for a second, deliver reinforcer. Repeat this about 10 times. Now you are ready to go! You are looking for a response in your animal that shows they are expecting something good after the marker, for example they may look up in excitement.