Once your dog knows a behavior well, and can perform it in many locations and with many distractions, you can fade the use of your marker signal and rewards. In other words, you don't need to click and treat every time your dog sits for you. However, it's also important to pay off every now and then to keep your dog in the game and gambling. "This time might be the time the reward happens, so I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, just in case."
Here's an example of how you can fade the use of treats when using a verbal marker while teaching a behavior like "sit":
Reducing the use of food rewards should be a goal, but always be ready to go back to using more or better treats when you add more distractions, duration, or distance to a behavior - at least until your dog has a clear understanding that this is the same training as before, just in different context. If a well-trained behavior falls apart when you go out into the world, that's information for you. It's time to help your dog by going back to food - usually a high value reward.
Once your dog demonstrates that he can stay focused on the task at hand, you can switch to a lower value food as long as you maintain the successes you achieved with the high-value food in that same location or with the same distractions.
Once you have decided to use fewer treats, bear in mind that never using treats again would be like asking yourself to give up ice cream, cake, or other goodies. There is nothing wrong with using food to reward your dog, just use it to your advantage - to help him get better with his skills. Sometimes it is fun to give your dog a treat, just like it is fun for us to get unexpected rewards. Also, if your dog does something really amazing that you would like repeated, then food is the best paycheck you can give him to keep him in your employment.
About the Author
If your dog barks and lunges at distractions or just drags you on walks, one helpful strategy is to perform fun exercises that help your dog focus on you.
These exercises work best if you adopt quick, precise treat delivery and movement speed as well as posture and arm positions that make your signals clear.
The following is a set of patterns for combining simple exercises in ways that make focusing on you fun:
About the Author
During this last year my dog, Bella and I did something that I did not think was possible. We happily and calmly walked within 20 feet or so of half a dozen unfamiliar dogs and their people. I was in awe. There was not so much as a peep (or dare I say growl) out of Bella. This may seem small or trite to some, but to me it was thrilling.
If any of you have a reactive dog you probably understand, for the rest of you, let me give you some background. When I say reactive I mean that when on leash and within close proximity to other dogs lunging, snarling and biting at whatever is around including the leash and/or human body parts.
My husband and I adopted Bella from our local shelter 8 years ago. She did not always exhibit this kind of behavior, however in hindsight, signs of anxiety were present. In fact, the first months with her were uneventful, but soon after she began showing signs of anxiety and mild aggression then, soon after that we had our first “incident”. I bent over to pet her and she growled, snapped and lunged at me. I was shocked, and scared. I never expected this to happen to me. Within a year or so of that she also began to be reactive to other dogs while on leash. We tried many things to curb this behavior including positive reinforcement, and using mild aversive techniques with little success.
So how did we get from snarling and biting to calm well-mannered behavior? Well, I’ll tell you it was a lot of work, but I implemented a program to manage and to change her behavior (and mine). If you have ever tried to change your own behavior say starting an exercise program or to quit smoking you know what I am talking about. Behavior change requires focus on the unwanted behaviors, and the practice new of behaviors on daily basis. Along with lots of practice change requires persistence as well as a healthy dose of patience.
The first step of the process for me was to understand the "how" and "why of canine behavior including how they communicate and how they learn. Then, I had to understand what was triggering her unwanted behavior. After doing my homework I was ready to implement training to work effectively to change her response to people and dogs. The next step was to work on basic obedience, as well as to develop and implement a behavior modification plan. The knowledge I gained and techniques I learned over the years have not only changed her behavior, but have change mine.
I use positive reinforcement in my daily practice. I focus on rewarding the behavior what I want, not to punish for what I don’t. Through all of the learning and training I have learned to trust Bella (and she has learned to trust me) and mend our broken relationship. I now see Bella in a new way. I see what is good and how fabulous she is rather than this “demon” dog of old. Although I know that the negative tendencies can reoccur, I am empowered because I know how to manage some and change others.
For dog owners with aggressive or reactive dogs—There is hope. You can build trust and share a happy life with your dog.
Tips for Success
What you can do:
If you ask me why your dog is chewing your carpet to shreds, or attacking other dogs I would ask you to describe the situation. I would want to know details like:
My next question would be "tell me about a day in the life of your dog". I want to know:
These are questions I use to find out what factors or triggers contribute to the dog's behavior, and others to see if their basic needs are satisfied. Understanding the details of the problem and the dog's lifestyle help me to evaluate what is needed to help change or manage behavior. Many unwanted behaviors stem from pets trying to meet their needs in a way that is not appropriate to their humans, i.e. crazy energy, chewing, anxiety and withdrawal.
If you are having behavior issues with your dog one of the first things I would suggest to you is to find a qualified trainer or behaviorist. Additionally, take a look at your dog's lifestyle and see if that may be what is impacting their behavior.
Here are five lifestyle factors that can improve behavior and overall health.
1 - Exercise
Each dog needs different amounts of exercise depending on breed, age, size and health. All dogs need to move and get their heart pumping daily. Find out more about your dog’s exercise needs.
2 - Mental Stimulation
Just like us, dog’s need a balance of mental and physical activity. Generally, your dog needs between 3 and 6 hours of activity per day to be healthy. There are many fun activities to do with your dog that take little effort on your part. More brain games.
3 - Good Nutrition
Your dog’s behavioral wellness is also influence by diet. Make sure to understand the nutritional needs of your dog. Although there is some controversy, most experts suggest 30% protein, 30% fat and 40% carbs is healthy for your dog. Here is a link to basic Nutritional information. Click to see a good homemade dog food recipe for your pup.
4 - Companionship
Humans and dogs both need social contact with others to be healthy. Your dog needs to interact with others, 8 or more hours alone is very hard on your social pooch. If you are gone much of each day you might consider a dog walker, or a neighbor who can come and play with your pet during the day. Dog daycare is also an option, but it is not for every dog.
5 - Rewards
Positive training is the key to a good relationship with your dog. A healthy, positive relationship improves all aspects of life with your dog (and yours). Remembering to reward your dog with praise, pets and/or treats goes a long way to changing and maintaining behaviors you want.
Debbie Lewis, MS
I educate and support people as they deepen their understanding of their pet's behavior to create happy, healthy pet-people relationships.