Friday, April 10, 2009

Using Life Rewards

It's a common belief that if you use a clicker to train your pet, they will never listen to you unless you have treats on you. This is certainly not the case. While food rewards are very valuable for teaching new behaviors and working in distracting environments, clicker trainers also use a variety of other reinforcements to help maintain behaviors. These are often referred to as "life rewards".

Simply put, life rewards are anything in a dog's daily life that they enjoy and are willing to work for. Instead of allowing dogs to get access to these things for free, clicker trainers see each instance as a valuable training opportunity. Does your dog want to go out for a walk? Why not work on his sit-stay while you get his leash and clip it to his collar? The reward for his good behavior will be a chance to go out for a fun walk. This concept is also the basis of a program called "Nothing in Life is Free" which helps teach dogs self control and good manners. The idea behind the program is that your dog must perform a requested behavior before getting anything he wants.

To find out what your dog's life rewards are, spend a day just observing your dog. Take notes of anything that your dog enjoys doing or getting. Some examples may include playing with a favorite toy, getting a belly rub, dinner, or sniffing a favorite spot on a walk. By the end of the day you should have a nice sized list of several different reinforcement options that you can use train your dog. Life rewards are best used to strengthen cues that have already been taught through clicking and treating. Doing so will teach your dog that responding to your cues pays off even when you don't have cookies in your pocket.

1 comment:

  1. Good post!

    I'm currently working on a release word for sit-stays with my dog.

    I've found that going through doors is a great reinforcer for this behavior. The dog sit-stays, then when I say the release word ("okay!") she gets to go inside, or outside, or in the garage, or in the car, or out of the car, etc.! She loves it.

    (Also, thanks for visiting my blog today!)


    Mary H.