Saturday, October 17, 2015

Dog training R+ without treats.

When working in the world of dog training, I have, and continue to learn new things.

I currently contract for a company that uses what is known as R+ training (positive reinforcement) methods.
Often times this method is confused for treat based training and can easily turn into that.
A REAL R+ trainer knows that rewards don't always have to be treats.
I personally like to work within the 4 quadrants of dog training.

R+ : The addition of a reward following a desired behavior.
R- When a certain stimulus (usually an aversive stimulus) is removed after a particular behavior is exhibited. The likelihood of the particular behavior occurring again in the future is increased because of removing/avoiding the negative consequence.
P+ : Decrease the likelihood of a undesirable behavior reoccurring by adding an unfavorable consequence.
P-: Think of it as adding a negative consequence after an undesired behavior is emitted to decrease future responses.

Sometimes I have to get creative with the quadrants. I am always assessing what actions I am taking or not taking that help my student. 
I work primarily with the R+ quadrant. I caution my clients to wean off the treats quickly. I don't mind using them to help guide, shape and reward desired behaviors especially in the beginning  of training or when in a more distracting environment. 
I want people to know that R+ is NOT treat based, it is reward based. Treats are the "go to" for this method, but they are not the only way. 

Today while showing a client how to use R+ with her new dog she got discouraged at the idea of using treats. She doesn't want a "Treat dependent" dog. Who does?
I was glad she wanted to learn how to train her dog a better way. 
I sat down at her table and decided to explain to her how R+ works, without treats. 
 For dogs, a reward is simply engaging any of their senses. 
On walks, I play the "GO SNIFF" game. If my dog walks nicely by me for a few steps and stops when I stop, then I say "go sniff" and allow him a few seconds to sniff an area nearby. 
I engage his SCENT driven sense. 
This is the reward for my dog using good leash manners. It's as good as any treat. 
 When I am working with my dog on calm behavior, I use eye contact. Ex: My dog lays at my feet and looks up as me as if I hung the moon, I make eye contact with him and softly say "Good boy".  
I have engaged his SIGHT and HEARING senses.
This lets him know "When I am calm at mom's feet, I get kind looks and nice tones."
If he stays calm I will reach down and gently rub his head or shoulders. 
I have engaged his TOUCH sense.  
If I have a yummy piece of cheese and want to share with my dog, I ask him for a skill (SIT, DOWN, WATCH ME, ETC.) and when he responds with the proper behavior, I give him the cheese. 
This engages his TASTE sense. 
I explained these things to my client and she had the warmest smile. This is what she was looking for, a positive way to train her dog without becoming treat dependent. 
Treat dependency is not the goal of R+ training. There is a way to train with them and wean from them quickly and still have a motivated, skilled dog. It is however a common mishap owners run into when using this method.

Dogs are sensory motivated, that is why it's important to watch how your body language and engagement with your dog is affecting him. 
You are always teaching your dog something, even when you're not actively training them. 
I like to share the following story with people about my personal experience with my own dog. It is a great example of how dogs are always learning even when we are not actively teaching. 
My Great Dane is a rescue and when I brought home this 98lb untrained 9 mo. old pup I had a project ahead of me. 
One of the first things I teach is boundaries. My kitchen area has an invisible boundary line that my dog has learned not to cross. I also send my dogs to the crate or another room when we sit down to eat.  When I first brought Kyle home, I kept his crate near the kitchen so he could watch me as I cook, but not be in the kitchen. He quickly bonded to me and wanted to be at my side at ALL times. This exercise of staying out of the kitchen was difficult for Kyle at first. He soon became happy with my eye contact and kind words "Good boy" when he was laying in his crate as I cooked. 
One day I went to the kitchen to start dinner, I microwaved something and as soon as the timer went off I heard Kyle thumping around in his crate. He had put himself up without me giving any cue. 
The microwave alarm had become his cue. I had not actively tried for this particular cue/response, but it showed me, I had been teaching Kyle all along. I had not used a single treat, but I had been generous with my rewards. I was consistent with my boundaries, routine and R+. 
Dogs thrive on this. Like kids, they need to know what is expected of them. They WANT to please and operate as part of the family. 

It is possible to show them the way without treats and still be R+.