Reward for the Find
I always preference any writing I do about dog training with a comment that Karen Pryor once made: “There are as many ways to train an animal as there are people to think them up.” What you need to do is always be consistent with the Laws of Learning. So, what I will write is just my opinion but, to put the results of my opinion into perspective, the students I teach are among this region’s top title holders. With that, I’d like to remind folks to know what it is that you are rewarding, especially in a novice dog. I have come full circle on this and today, in my young dogs, the only thing I reward in the beginning is the “find.” I don’t want my dog thinking that it is his “decision,” or his “indication,” that brings the reward. It is the “find.” And to start out, I tell my students to reward on a “zero delay,” meaning that, as soon as the dog “finds,” I immediately reward. In short, I am basically rewarding the “act” of “finding” as the find happens. And, I reward a long time at source – I ping pong between 5, 10, 20, 30, and even 40 small pieces of food, if I feel it beneficial, one piece at a time, but QUICKLY delivered. In other words, I try to treat my treats as if they were a toy – quick, fast, teasing delivery. While I may make the process of rewarding into a “reward event” by doing “push backs,” I, essentially, want to make a big enough impression with my reward delivery that the dog starts to put high value on the source. Thus, “zero delay” plus “heavy reinforcement at source” creates a strong foundation in the novice dog such that the dog thinks that it is the source that brings the reward. I see dogs all the time that develop a natural “possession” of the source in their mind (not in an aggressive way but in a way that shows that they covet the source). This works so well that when you start to put some duration between the “find” and the reward, you get a natural decision from the dog…..which is really whatever behavior your dog selects to communicate to you that, “Hey, pal, pay me – I found!” And you can make it more likely than not to get the type of indication you want (ie, focused stare, sit, down etc) by “pre-training” that behavior so the dog knows that this particular behavior is a rewardable option for your dog to use to push you to pay him. But, again, I remind my students that the “indication” is used by the dog to get the handler to reward him for the find and not for the indication itself. There is a huge difference between these two thought-processes in the dog. (BTW, if a handler wanted to replace the ball for the treats, the mechanics as set out above would be the same. Tug, tug, tug a varying length of time RIGHT OVER SOURCE – and, if your dog is a strong tugger like my dog, simply let go of the toy if it moves away from source and present another tug to the dog over source. They will learn to push back into the source. Or, if your dog does not like to tug but loves to chase balls, have 7-10 balls in your pocket and flick a varying number of balls out directly over source, one ball at a time. I once had Doberman that LOVED tennis balls and this was a game that sent her into heaven when we flicked balls out, starting right over source. Sometimes I’d jackpot and drop all 7+ balls right at source).