The goal of the reward is that our dog repeats a wanted behavior. We reward to value an action performed by our dog. Conversely, it is therefore important to ignore any unwanted behavior.
A reward is what our dog considers to be a reward. We can offer them verbal congratulations, treats, petting, a toy, … It is our dog who will tell us what he likes.
The statistically most valued reward for dogs is food. Please note that all food is not worth reward. A dry cookie may look bland next to a small, very fragrant piece of cheese. However, there are two exceptions: those who are not interested in food (multiple causes: stress, distractions, toothache, …), and those who are so interested in food that they are unable to focus on our requests.
Toys are exciting for most dogs. This reward is not suitable for games that require concentration. The toys can be used for research games (lost object, hidden object, etc.). When our dog has found his toy, he can keep it as a reward for playing alone or playing with us. In no case will the toy be used as a projectile.
Strokes require mastery from the one who dispenses them: not on the head, no “shampoo”, too fast approach, … Some dogs do not like caresses, let’s be careful what they like.
Verbal congratulations can be used alone or as a reinforcement of other rewards. However, we will have to pay particular attention to our intonations (a peremptory voice or a cheerful voice do not have the same effect on our dog) and to the tones (a high voice is exciting, while a low voice is soothing). In an emergency, if we don’t have treats, we can always congratulate, even from a distance.
Giving attention (laughing, looking, touching, …) is a reward. When our dog made a mistake and we smiled and looked at him, we showed him attention. Let’s not be surprised if he does this stupidity again every time he wants us to take care of him.
With our body language and our verbal language, we will teach our dog to react in a particular way to certain requests (bodily or verbal): “report”, “give”, “leave”, “follow me”, “go towards “,…
To fix these situations, words or requests in the mind and the memory of our dogs, we will have to confirm, to the nearest half-second, that their proposal is exactly what we expected from them.
Reward timing is incredibly important. The time between the proposal of our dog and the reward offered is as small as possible:
- the ideal timing is 0,84 seconds ;
- up to 3 seconds, few dogs will still be able to link ;
- more than 5 secondes makes the link impossible.
Systematically or randomly
For something new to learn, it will be necessary to systematically reward each correct behavior (which we are expecting).
As soon as our dog has understood what we expected from him (he systematically responds correctly to the same request), we can randomly reward: we reward or not, without any precise scheme. The goal is that our dog no longer knows when he will be rewarded. If we reward every other time, our dog will quickly understand the reward scheme. No more reward would extinguish the expected behavior.
Let’s also use jackpots: a reward offered for special efforts and on special occasions. This jackpot can take several forms:
- quantity: if I choose to reward learning a game with treats, my jackpot could be to offer several treats at once;
- quality: if I choose to reward with treats, my jackpot could be a bigger chewy candy or licking pâté;
- diversity: if I choose to reward with treats, my jackpot could be a toy;
unprepared: if we are caught off guard on a walk, we do not have any toys or treats with us, we have, all the same, all that nature has offered us: our voice, our body and our imagination . Small hops, laughs, strokes can act as a jackpot.
After a jackpot, the learning session ends. If we gave a jackpot, it is that our dog’s proposal was well worth it. Let’s stop on excellence, our dog will only have a better memory of it!
- Let’s respect what our dog considers as a reward;
- The timing is critical;
- To reward systematically or randomly: each has its role;
- Let’s to offer jackpots at strategic moments.