Monday, August 2, 2010

Rewards - The TEAM in Teamwork

Max at the Monroe Trial, June 2010
What does the dog consider as a reward?  Is it only food treats?  Toys?  A tug session? NO!  When you pet them, that is a reward.  When you call them, that is a reward.  When you approach them, that is a reward.  Run with them, big reward.  Jump up and down and clap for them.  Big reward. 

Be careful in your actions what behavior you are rewarding.  If D makes a mistake and you pat him on the head and say "That's okay", you are rewarding the mistake. That's no favor to D. When D is barking and you pick him up to soothe and quiet him, you are encouraging barking.  When D knocks a bar and you keep on running with him because you are "running sequences" or "building drive", you are saying a knocked bar is no big deal to me (even though it will disqualify you from your run). You are still ready to play even if D screws up.  This is a big NO NO in my opinion, and some of the best dog trainers agree.

From Susan Garret's Podcast, I got a confirmation of my own observations:
All the time in classes, I see people rewarding their dogs for mistakes.  D knocks a bar at 5, H keeps on running the sequence to 7, then treats D for his good 2-on-2-off contact at 7.  Yes the contact deserves a reward, but you shouldn't give it because you are also rewarding a mistake at 5.  Some say stopping at 5 demotivates the dog, kills drive, others that it quickly teaches them to pick up their feet so you can move on to other skills.  I'm still observing, but leaning towards the latter.

Dogs think in Black and White.  No gray zones.

How many times do we hear this  "Dogs and children think in Black and White."  Unlike most adult humans, there are no gray zones.  Of course, you don't get mad or punish D for knocking a bar or taking a wrong course.  But you stop playing.  Game Over.  Time to reboot.  Go back.  Start over.  Rethink your moves so you can do them better.  Go back to basics. But, some handlers will say, "It was my fault.  I didn't support that jump."  IMHO, it doesn't matter which team member screwed up.  The game is over (except when running in an actual trial, where you keep on running because you paid $22 for that 1 minute in the ring and you darn well want to get your money's worth).  I believe dogs can learn to compensate for our mistakes just as we compensate for theirs.  They learn to figure things out, and get smarter, as you do. That's the TEAM in teamwork. And building it relies on lavish rewards, precisely and properly delivered.  Harder to do than write about, to be sure.

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