The goal of the reward is that our dog reiterates a desired behavior. We reward to value an action performed by our dog. On the contrary, it is important to ignore any unwanted behavior.
A reward is what our dog feels is a reward. We can offer them verbal greetings, candies, caresses, a toy, … It’s our dog who will tell us what he likes.
The most statistically valued reward for dogs is food. Be careful that not all food is worth a reward. A dry biscuit may look bland next to a small piece of very fragrant cheese. There are two exceptions: those who are not interested in food, and those who are so interested in food that they are not able to focus on our requests.
Toys are exciting for most dogs. This reward is not suitable for games that require concentration. Toys can be used for research games (lost object, hidden object, …). When our dog has found his toy, he can keep it as a reward for playing alone or playing with us. Under no circumstances will the toy be used as a projectile.
The caresses require control on the part of the one who gives them: not on the head, no “shampoo”, fast approach, … Some dogs do not appreciate the caresses, remain attentive to what they appreciate. There is evidence that slow caresses are soothing and lower the pace of heartbeats
Verbal congratulations can be used alone or in reinforcement of other rewards. However, we will have to pay special attention to our intonations (a peremptory voice or a joyful voice do not have the same effect on our dog) and tones (a high voice is exciting, while a low voice is soothing). In case of emergency, if we do not have candy, we can always congratulate, even remotely, with our voice.
Giving attention (laughing, looking, touching, …) is a reward. When our dog makes a mistake and we smile and look at him, we give him some attention. Let us not be surprised if he begins again this foolishness every time he wants us to take care of him.
Through our body language and our verbal language, we will teach our dog to react in a particular way to certain requests: “report”, “give”, “leave”, “follow me”, “go towards”, …
To fix these situations, these words or these requests in the mind and the memory of our dogs, we will need, to the nearest half-second, to confirm to them that their proposal is exactly what we expected from them.
The reward timing is incredibly important. The time between the proposal of our dog and the reward offered should be the shortest possible:
- the ideal timing is 0.84 seconds;
- up to 3 seconds, most dogs still make the link;
- more than 5 seconds makes the link impossible.
Systematically or randomly
For a novelty to learn, we will systematically reward each correct behavior (the one that corresponds to what we expected).
Let us not forget to continue to ignore unwanted behaviors.
As soon as our dog has understood what we expect from him (he answers systematically correctly to the same request), we can reward randomly: we reward or not, without precise schema. The goal is that our dog does not know when he will be rewarded. If we reward every other time, our dog will quickly understand the reward scheme. To no longer reward would result in the extinction of the expected behavior.
We also use jackpots: a reward offered for special efforts and special occasions. This jackpot can take many forms:
- The quantity: if I choose to reward the learning of a game with sweets, my jackpot could be to offer several sweets at one time;
- Quality: If I choose to reward with sweets, my jackpot could be a bigger chewy candy or some pate to lick;
- Diversity : If I choose to reward with a candy, my jackpot could be a toy;
- Unprepared: if we are caught off guard, we have no toys or sweets with us, we have, all the same, all that nature has offered us: our voice, our body and our imagination. Small jumps, laughs, hugs can act as a jackpot.
After a jackpot, the learning session ends. If we took the trouble to give a jackpot, it means that the proposal of our dog was well worth it. Let us stop there, our dog will keep a better memory!
- The timing of the rewards is essential
- Let us respect what our dog considers as a reward
- Systematic rewards and random rewards : each one’s role
- Let us offer jackpots at strategic moments