What is Your Dog's Currency? – Reward Based Training Tips
In a recent article called “Will Word for Food” I talked about finding your dog a job, and rewarding it for doing it. In this post, I want to talk about rewarding your dog for doing what you ask … when you ask!
While I do not believe in using treats or a food reward for everything, or all of the time, I do think that dogs (and other pets) can often benefit from the use of treats during the early stages of training a behavior or command.
I recently worked with a dog that would not release a ball when giving the “Drop It” command. When trying to get the dog to drop it, it would turn into a “tug-o-war” match that the owner would always lose. But after introducing a small piece of milk-bone she would drop the ball every time. The same thing happened with most other commands.
While it is vitally important to bond with the dog first, it may not always be enough to get the dog to listen and respond the first time you give a command. Some dogs (especially younger ones) are just way to hyper or don’t have a long enough attention span. In these cases, treats are a great way to get and keep your dog’s attention for a longer amount of time.
Treats should only be used to connect the command with the correct response, and only until the dog “gets” the behavior or command. Once this happens the reward should become more of a verbal / tactile one. (a.k.a. scruffing and petting and giving lots of “good dog”s)
An example of this might be: You are calling your dog to come. When it comes, you reward with a treat and in a happy voice you say: “Good Dog” and scruff the dog on the neck and pet it. After several days the dog is now coming to you every time you call him. Instead of giving a treat every time it comes to you, you start giving it only voice and petting rewards 8 out of 10 times he comes to you. Over the course of a few weeks you should be able to remove the food reward completely, except for special occasions. If the dog lapses, you can reintroduce the treats and start over. This is common in younger dogs, so don’t feel like you have done something wrong!
The point being that the dog needs to eventually learn to do want you ask of it because it wants to please you. It will know that it is pleasing you because you are giving it a reward (praise and petting) when it does something correctly.
Another way to offer rewards is to play with your dog using it’s favorite toy or toys. This is how police and military dogs are trained. My dog loves to play with her rubber tug ring or a tennis ball and she will do just about anything to get me to spend a few moments with her playing with her toys.
But it’s not enough to go out and buy a bag of milk-bones or a few toys. Different treats and different toys have different values to different dogs. Your dog might like tennis balls over anything else, or you dog my like Beggin’ Strips the best, but the next dog may not like either of them. So it’s important to bond with YOUR dog and take the time to find out what it’s favorites are. One of my favorite well know trainers calls this: “Finding out what your dog’s currency is” …
Example: My dog likes fresh cooked chicken or pork over anything else. So these are my dog’s $1,000 bill. Next, her $500 bills are the smelly treats like T-bonz, or Beggin’ Strips. The $50 bill is a Milk-bone or her tennis ball. and so on!
Keep in mind:
Most dogs will do most of their work for a $20 bill. So it’s important that you not throw around a bunch of $1000 bills when you don’t have to. If put into human terms: You work 8 to 5 for $20 per hour … So if your boss started paying you $100 per hour, how much work would he get out of you when he started giving you $20 again?
So if you want to make training more fun for you and your dog, do a little research and find out what your dog’s currency is. You and your dog will be much more happy for it!