Expanding Your Skills as a Dog Trainer...Hiding Rewards!!
Varying the amount and type of reward that you use in training can significantly improve your dogs performance and interest in a training session. The clicker can be paired with all kinds of rewards once the basic idea has been established. My German Shepherd would much rather have a tennis ball than a cookie and so whenever possible we try to use it as a reward. Sometimes it can be difficult to get a dog to be enthusiastic about a toy or game reward but persistence is the key. The more often you practice the sooner your dog will catch on.
To improve your skills as a handler and trainer you must pay attention to what your dog really wants and use it as often as is reasonable in your training sessions. One way to get your dog to perform reliably is to stop carrying the reward on your person and start hiding them around the training area. For instance, you may be practicing in the backyard, working on heeling and so you would hide the rewards all over the yard so your dog doesn't know what you'll pull out next. A tennis ball under a tree, a handful of cheese on the picnic table, a tug toy on the stairs and some dry dog food in a container under a bush. All you'd carry with you is your clicker, and you'd begin working on heeling. When you clicked your dog for being next to you (for however many steps) you would both run to the hiding spot for one of the rewards and give it to your dog there. Then you'd get back to work and do it again.
At first you might want to hide rewards all over the training area, and later maybe leave them all in one spot (but hidden) so that the dog could choose what he wanted as a reward. This arrangement makes it exciting for your dog and keeps his interest in being with you very high. He never knows what you'll do next. In order for this to be successful you must have accomplished some basic ground work:
- Your dog must know that the click means that a reward is coming.
- Your dog must have some clue as to what you want for a behavior. For instance with heeling...he should be at the point where he knows that trotting next to you earns rewards.
Sometimes when you try to get your dog to this level you find that what you thought he knew he really doesn't. Never be afraid to go back to the basics and review, even experienced dogs forget and need help. The benefit of getting the rewards off your person is a dog who performs a behavior because he knows it, not because he's following a pez dispenser. You as his trainer should be the giver of all great things but not a treat dispenser, hiding the rewards is key to this success.