Guys, I have a confession to make. I am a reward and praise addict. I get nervous if I train a dog for 10 seconds and can’t tell him he’s brilliant five times and stuff his mouth with treats so he wouldn’t talk back. I just feel this… compulsion to reward. Every. Single. Behavior. Except in agility. Somehow my brain figured out that running a sequence of 20 obstacles in agility without stuffing my dog’s face after each one is fine and the sky won’t come falling down if I don’t do it.
This spring Ruby and I started on a new adventure together: Rally Obedience. I thought it would be good for him because Java was getting more training time than him and this would give him some more one-on-one time with me. It would also be good for me because I would have to learn to fight my compulsive feeding habit.
There is a reason why I like to reward every single behavior: it’s crystal clear what I like and what I don’t like. If the sit is too slow, I don’t reward it. If heeling is too wide or the dog looks away during heeling, too bad – you’ll just have to heel a little longer to get that reward. Though heeling is already a grey area because the dog can make many many decisions before I reward. If I reward every behavior that I like it’s easy for me to keep improving it over time, even though I’m not specifically working on it, or at least keep it from deteriorating from lack of reinforcement.
RallyO is making me face my fears of:
– Loosing Ruby’s enthusiasm (which very quickly means loosing ability to work with Ruby – he is either 100% on or he’s gone, there is little middle ground with him)
– Making him frantic, thinking he did something wrong because reward didn’t appear immediately
– Seeing behaviors deteriorate, becoming less precise and/or slower
We practiced doing several exercises before a reward at home, but today was the first time doing it outside with all the distractions that this brings. Main rewards were placed in three bowls positioned around the sequence. I couldn’t help but reward him twice from hand as well – he was such a good boy 🙂 While he did feel a bit “off” sometimes and not as connected as he usually is, I am soooooo proud of how well he did 🙂
I love seeing his fast responses and excited tail. 🙂 I would hate to loose that in the process of reducing frequency of reinforcement. I might combine rewarding from hand with rewarding from bowls for a while, so that I can reward anything he does exceptionally well right away. This way I’m hoping he will figure out that it still pays off when he tries hard and this should keep the enthusiasm up.