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#1 Frogs & Dogs

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 01:25 AM

I've been watching handlers at trials and classes to see how often they reward their dogs. Do you reward your dog after every run no matter what? What about at a trial? Do you ever stop and reward during a run? Only if training a specific skill? Is the opportunity to continue the run its own reward? Do you do anything else before rewarding? Does your dog know when he's earned a reward?

From what I've observed, I think the handlers I've witnessed are generally under-rewarding. That said, I've stopped rewarding for every single run. In particular, if Kit disconnects from me on course (sniffing), she loses her reward. I rarely see this in class, and it is becoming less frequent at trials, meaning that she is still getting rewarded for at least 90% of her runs, even in trials. I will occasionally reward during a run in class, usually at natural stopping points such as on contacts and the table.

After a great run, Kit will immediately turn back to me and let out this adorable excitement growl/bark. It's not aggressive in the least - just her way of expressing her excitement (she knows I'm about to throw a big party).

#2 alligande

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 07:24 AM

Let me try and give you a coherant answer: The bottom line is I think it depends on the dog and the situation. I reward my young dog after every run, unless we have left the course for a specific reason (I have written about the leaping screaming etc), but at that point the game has stopped. He never disconnects from me, but some days we just do not have a good run, but we always tug at the end, to be honest I think you have to reward at the end, if the last few obstacles were correct, He knows when it was exceptional because of my attitude, you can not fake the high of a good run. From the start with him, my goal was to make every thing about agility the most fun in the world, lots of tug, lots of silliness, we only play tug when trainning.

During a trial rewarding is hard, you can only reward at the end of the run, and there is always a time lag, to getting the toy or food, so we always celebrate with lots of happy voice while getting the leash, and once again, if it was an amazing run, he knows by my attitude.

In training I randomly reward the table, as I want to keep his automatic down fresh and it is not a fun behavior, I use food here as the only behavior I want on the table is a calm down. I do not reward contacts or weaves as what he wants is to keep going to the next obstacle, so here we have a negative, the obstacle has to be completely repeated until correct, and his reward is continuing which for this dog is more important than any treat or tug. If we have been having a problem with weaves and he finally gets it right then, I reward with the nearest 2 jumps and tug, then we go back to the course. I would not do this with my other dog who played agility because I wanted him to, not because he thought it was worthwhile, he would get rewarded way more often, treats after weaving, treats for contacts, not every time, randomly.

I sometimes train with a top handler, and when she is training her own dogs she rewards with a tug, after just a short sequence and hardly ever runs a full course. She does not want me using a tug like that as my dog gets to high, she wants me to use food, but he really does not care about food when we are working with agility equipment, but at home when working short sequences (the only type in my yard) he gets rewarded every time we get it right with a game of tug.

My dog is exceptionally driven to play agility, and for me the most important goal is keeping that drive, so that equals lots of fun.

#3 Root Beer

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 09:10 AM

I've been watching handlers at trials and classes to see how often they reward their dogs. Do you reward your dog after every run no matter what?


Yes, I do. My dog has played with me to the best of his or her ability (even when it's not a great run/performance). I let my dog know that I am very happy about that.

I don't reward every dog in the same way, though, nor every run in the same way, nor to the same degree. For instance, Dean LOVES to heel, so for a particularly good run that I am extra happy about, I will cue him into heel and let him heel around a bit. He knows that means he did extra well. Just a notch below that is a game of tug. Food is a possibility, as well, especially for a run where he wasn't at his best. Of course, if he met a particular challenge, like performing a teeter, he gets extra reinforcement, and rewards.

What about at a trial? Do you ever stop and reward during a run?


I reward after every run, but outside the ring. Getting the leash on and getting out of the ring is as much a part of the "run" for our team as the actual running of the course is.

But after we are outside the ring, I always give some kind of reward.

Some trial sites provide unique opportunities for rewarding after a run. One place where we trial has a pond that the dogs are allowed to swim in. When the weather is good, I will include a swim as part of a reward for a run.

Is the opportunity to continue the run its own reward?


I would only remove the opportunity to run if my dog's health or safety were at stake, so I don't use continuation of the run as a reward per se. Yes, it is rewarding to the dog, but it is also the job that we are out there to do together and it is what, ultimately, is being rewarded.

Others have different ways of handling that, but if my dog knocks a bar or misses a contact, or whatever, it is a non-issue and we go on as if it didn't happen. I take the skill that needs work (either on my part or the dog's) to training at class or home.

Do you do anything else before rewarding? Does your dog know when he's earned a reward?


Sometimes I use a tongue click or verbal marker. Other times presentation of the reward (in the case of a toy or food) is also a reward marker.

It depends on the situation, really. Of course, I always use a marker when reinforcing in training, but when running in a trial or as a "rehearsal" kind of run, I would only use a reward marker if there were a specific need to do so.

Reinforcement and rewarding is an art and a skill unto itself, and it is definitely something that is of great interest to me. Like you, I have observed that the majority of handlers either don't reinforce or reward enough, but also that rewards aren't always used to their best advantage, especially in training.

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#4 mum24dog

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 09:20 AM

some days we just do not have a good run, but we always tug at the end, to be honest I think you have to reward at the end, if the last few obstacles were correct


This.

However bad the run, make sure that there is something to reward at the end, even if it's only going over the last jump properly.

#5 gcv-border

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 09:57 AM

The more I learn about rewarding/reinforcements, the more I realize I need to learn. I agree with Root Beer that it is an art and skill, and it is also of great interest to me.

Here are just some random thoughts:
I agree that the reward for some dogs is to continue to the next jump or tunnel or whatever. I have an ongoing discussion with my agility trainer (who is into a very high reward rate, but she runs Rottweilers) that at times, the reward for my dog is to go on - NOT necessarily to stop and eat food. On the other hand, for many dogs, the treat or toy is more rewarding. I would have to agree with Alligande that the type and timing of a reward will depend on the individual dog and situation.

Quote "I will occasionally reward during a run in class, usually at natural stopping points such as on contacts and the table." Consider the paragraph below ---

Having written the previous paragraph, I admit that recently my agility teacher has been telling us that we (and many other agility handlers) do not reward enough, and I have to agree with her. Currently, we (the class) are working on moving rewards, particularly after a short sequence. The class is at the point where complete runs are common, but she wants us to think about places within the run where we can reward. We have been purposely interrupting runs to reward. She wants us to concentrate on rewarding after a hard wrap or a tough weave pole entry and completion -- and to reward with a moving reward. The thinking is that at this point in our training our dogs have had thousands of rewards for static &/or single behaviors (getting on the table, holding a contact, jumping through a tire, etc. i.e what you may refer to as natural stopping points). We should be using the next level of rewards - rewarding after a sequence. So, in spite of the fact that we are running a full course, during training she wants us to interrupt the run several times to reward - not so much with treats, but with toys or tug. I have seen a very nice increase in the drive of other dogs in the class. My dog has great drive, so I see this type of reward strategy as impressing on him that he successfully completed a tough sequence i.e. I will reward after a tough wrap which requires a deceleration since he likes to surge forward and decells are hard for him.

I will even reward him if I made a handling mistake, but he responded appropriately. Sometimes I decelerate too soon which may pull him off a jump. Well, heck, that is my mistake and he was right to turn back towards me. Even though he didn't take the jump, he gets a tug reward because I didn't do my job, but he did his. I am glad to see that he can be this responsive. It is still a work in progress, but he used to "lock and load" on obstacles that were in line with the obstacle he was currently doing. As you know, judges will put decoy jumps or tunnels on a course. The 'logical' path was to continue on to the next obstacle, but the course path was to turn off the straight line. I am seeing that he less often blasts straight ahead on his own course, but that he is paying more attention to my body. So anytime he does that, even if my body is wrong which causes him to pull off the course, I reward him.

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#6 SecretBC

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 02:45 PM

Failure to properly reward the dog is darn near an epidemic in the agility world.

In beginner agility classes

1) They bring sucky treats
2) They don't bring enough treats
3) They don't treat at the right time
4) They don't treat enough

Usually they figure out 1 & 2 by the time they move on to the next level, but sadly 3 & 4 tend to continue for quite a while. When I was teaching I would get tired of constantly reminding them to reward their dog appropriately for whatever exercise they just did.

What really gets me is when they don't reward the dog because the sequence didn't go as planned -- BUT IT WAS HANDLER ERROR. If it wasn't the dog's fault (and guess what, it almost never is the dog's fault), then it is NOT FAIR to withhold reward from them because YOU screwed up.

I post many training videos on my blog and I have had people question, "Why did you reward her when she messed up?" Because Secret DIDN'T mess up -- Maybe the viewer can't see the small handling error I made, but it was there and I know I did it. The dog followed my body and more or less did what she was told to the best of her abilities. Because she tried, she gets a party!

If we are working on something hard, the last thing I want is for my dog to shut down before I manage to figure it out for myself. EVERYTHING gets rewarded. It might not be a huge reward, but they are getting recognition for a job well done.

In six years of trialing, I can think of only three times where I didn't give any reward coming out of the ring at a trial --- twice with Luke and once with Kaiser. Those were moments borne of frustration and bad training. Looking back, I know they didn't deserve that. They don't ask to go to trials. They work hard for me and even if the run didn't go as planned, they still deserve something for their efforts.

That is not to say I don't have varying reward levels. If a run was a disaster they definitely don't get a jackpot. After a super awesome run they get handfuls of chicken and copious amounts of, "What a good boy/girl you are!" as they eat it.

But every run gets rewarded.
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#7 Beach BCs

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 09:05 PM

I reward my dog after every single run. At class or at a trial. Whether he's done well or not, as long as he isn't being a butthead. To be honest, if we haven't done well, it's generally my fault. Sometimes the reward is with a tug/leash, but most often with steak. At class I'm known as The Steak Lady. I try to bing enough to share. A small sirloin isn't very expensive and I have a very nice butcher who will save me chunks of prime cuts. Last trial he sent me off with boneless beef spareribs. The human competitors were jealous. :) Oddly enough, training at home food and tugs are pointless. At home after a sequence Tex loves to run and chase after the dodge ball. Whatever works! Reward well and often.
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#8 SS Cressa

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 01:38 AM

I am curious as to what you consider a reward and if you talkes with the different handlers you were observing about when/how they rewarded.

I say that cause if you ever saw me run Troy if you didnt ask me you would not think he was getting a reward. After we ran at a trial i might say good boy put the leash on and walk out. Lol where is the reward? The best gift i can give Troy after our run is quiet, one on one time. Treats help too but nowhere near the ring!

As to do the dogs know when they are being rewarded? Idk, i would like to say yes at least one dog does. But i might be a little bias! ;-) normally if we had a kick a$$ run she will tug like there is no tomorrow. When we NQ or had an eh/bad run its a quick tug then back to seriousness again. For Cressa work is the best reward to give her. Treats... treats she could do without but if it makes me happy... rolleyes... she guess she can spare a second to eat them. Toys are good but a distraction. I want her to be watching the course not anticipating when the frisbee will be thrown. >.< she use to be really good but we havent done practice it in awhile.


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#9 Frogs & Dogs

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 02:59 AM

Failure to properly reward the dog is darn near an epidemic in the agility world.

In beginner agility classes

1) They bring sucky treats
2) They don't bring enough treats
3) They don't treat at the right time
4) They don't treat enough

Usually they figure out 1 & 2 by the time they move on to the next level, but sadly 3 & 4 tend to continue for quite a while. When I was teaching I would get tired of constantly reminding them to reward their dog appropriately for whatever exercise they just did.


From what I've seen, some of the most experienced handlers may be most guilty here. Admittedly, the green handlers aren't great at sticking to their criteria before rewarding, and their timing may leave something to be desired. The experienced handlers, though, seem to think that the dog wants to work, so the reward is unnecessary.

#10 SecretBC

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 09:15 AM

I'm sure that all depends on the circles you travel -- as that certainly has not been the experience amongst the agility folks I know.

Cressa makes an excellent point regarding rewards, though. Just because you may not *see* a reward being given to the dog does not mean it's not getting one. I do have one friend with *extremely* high drive border collies and he doesn't use treats or toys with them because they won't take them when they are super high. He picks them up and praises them, which they seem to really enjoy. I've never fully understood how he trains without treats or toys, but it seems to work for them.
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#11 Maralynn

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 12:14 PM

Some dogs just do just love the work. Missy would work for the sake of working. I rarely used anything with her besides a "good girl". And she learned fast and was highly consistent because she just wanted something to do.

But with my current two Kipp would work 24 hrs a day for food. He's pretty fond of frisbee/tug too. And Kenzi loves tug and food but also loves interaction.

So currently when I'm working Kipp he usually gets food if it's close in work, of Frisbee for distance.

Kenzi gets either food or tug for close in work. For distance work I usually throw a Frisbee (which she brings in to tug with) or free her to come play with me.

I use a high rate of rewards in the beginning, but try to make them pretty random as we progress since my end goal is the SAR test (which uses FEMA OB, agility and directional work) because we can only reward at certain spot in the test. Because of this, I also try to make the activity as intrinsically rewarding as possible (usually through a high rate of reward or by running the dog through something in the reward "party" that I throw when they get it right)

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#12 zenotri

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 05:37 PM

I spend a lot of time building a reward system, before I apply it to agility. I do use food for teaching some things, but reward with tug once they start sequencing.

I run very small sequences in training & reward constantly by using a verbal marker & tug. I want them to want the tug more than the course.

At a trial I don't have a choice :lol: . Mine take the last jump, find their lead ( which hopefully is not being held by someone) and launch at me with it. I'm am usually still playing with them by the time the next competitor finishes their run.

Very occasionally I have left the ring & no reward has been given. I have had 2 frustration nips with one dog in 6 years of trialling & both times we left the ring.

I see lots of people here who build a great reward system outside of training, but never integrate it properly into their training. I also see lots who do not reward enough, resulting in either decreased motivation or fast but without good connection.
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#13 alligande

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 09:54 PM

I agree with so much of what has been written, it truly is about what gets the dog going. A recent personal example, We have been struggling with weaves, He has great weaves, but getting him to do them has been a challenge, lots of missed entries, lots of barking, lots of popping out. So why, my thought was they slowed the game down.... So I came up with a game in my tiny backyard, on one side 12 poles on the other 3 jumps, we have been doing high speed circles, sometimes wrapping and doing 3,5,6 9 jumps, sometimes going around in circles, who knows when we might play tug that is always a surprise, but the game has been all about speed, the game only stops to correct the poles, then it's of to the races. After 4 days I got four perfect circles no barking, no cheating just four perfect attempts at the poles. This is not a game for many dogs, but mine thinks its fun, and it's working to motivate and teach him how to play with weaves.
I honestly believe that the key to rewards is finding your dogs motivation.

Also:



At a trial I don't have a choice :lol: . Mine take the last jump, find their lead ( which hopefully is not being held by someone) and launch at me with it. I'm am usually still playing with them by the time the next competitor finishes their run.

As we have been discussing NADAC a lot recently, if anyone plans to enter their trials do not teach your dog this, automatic E allowing your dog to grab his own leash. Otherwise I think this a great reward, would work or us.

#14 Root Beer

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 11:03 PM

I honestly believe that the key to rewards is finding your dogs motivation.


This is so important. A reward is only a reward if it truly is rewarding to the dog.

I know I've mentioned the student's dog I worked with once who loved watching Kleenex being waved around. That was the only thing that dog would work for. Not treats, no toys, nothing! But he would do anything for the Kleenex. Didn't even try to chase or bite at it, just loved watching it move around in front of him.

The handler used that as a reinforcer and reward.

And it differs so much from one dog to another, and sometimes even from one situation to another with one individual dog.

In addition to too low of a rate of reinforcement, and to poor timing of reinforcers, one of the biggest mistakes that I see people make is trying to reinforce or reward with something that the dog simply doesn't care about in the situation at hand.

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#15 Frogs & Dogs

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 01:22 AM

As we have been discussing NADAC a lot recently, if anyone plans to enter their trials do not teach your dog this, automatic E allowing your dog to grab his own leash. Otherwise I think this a great reward, would work or us.


Yeah, learned that one the hard way! I was having the leash runner leave the leash on the ground lest they get jumped on. Sadly, leash on the ground is like an open invitation for Kit. To solve the problem, I switched leashes (no more tug leash), had the leash runner hold the leash, and crossed my fingers that we didn't get a chest vault off the poor unsuspecting leash runner. :blink: So far we've had decent luck with that.

Perhaps the experienced handlers I've seen failing to reward their dogs are actually rewarding them in some cryptic way. I sort of doubt it though. My dog doesn't respond to praise much, except as a promise of better rewards to come, so maybe that biases me to look for material rewards of some kind.

Besides food (my go-to) and toys, I've been known to use the opportunity to greet friends as a reward. I wouldn't turn Kit loose on just anyone, but her favorite people are those who let her launch herself into their laps and kiss them enthusiastically. :P

#16 ziggzmom

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 12:52 PM

Perhaps the experienced handlers I've seen failing to reward their dogs are actually rewarding them in some cryptic way. I sort of doubt it though. My dog doesn't respond to praise much, except as a promise of better rewards to come, so maybe that biases me to look for material rewards of some kind.


But how are these dogs working? Some dogs don't need lots of big obvious rewards. Some dogs find the work rewarding. If the dogs are working well then the handlers most likely are doing the right things. I love to watch successful trainers work and show their dogs! Maybe you could watch what the experienced handlers are doing with their dogs and get some ideas that might be useful with a current or future dog.

#17 Root Beer

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 01:25 PM

My dog doesn't respond to praise much, except as a promise of better rewards to come, so maybe that biases me to look for material rewards of some kind.


I know exactly what you mean. I was exactly the same until I ended up with a dog who actually does love praise and will work for it.

Dean actually gets stressed by praise if I try to use it as a reinforcer or reward, so I stick with food and toys for him, or environmental reinforcers. But Tessa adores all of the classic praises "good girl!", "yay!", etc. She just lights up.

So, it goes back again to what the dog finds rewarding. For Tessa praise is rewarding. For Dean praise is definitely not rewarding. So, I use what works for each dog. Of course, I use other reinforcers and rewards with Tessa, too, but praise definitely plays a role for her that it does not with my others.

It is super handy to have a dog who loves praise and will work for it, but I've always gotten along fine with food, toys, and environmental rewards for my dogs who don't.

Still, I had to actually handle a dog who loves praise first hand to see how motivating it can be for some dogs.

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#18 Diana A

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 04:03 PM

I teach my dogs to value the rewards during the puppy foundation training stage, before the 'high' of running an actual sequence sucks them in. Because the problem with dogs whose reward is the work itself, is that they get the same reward/satisfaction from incorrect work as they do from correct work. You need some way to differeniate the really exceptional performance, the just okay performance, and the wrong performance.

The dog has to care strongly about something besides simply doing the equipment and getting to run. So I focus a lot on play with my puppies - we tug and wrestle and interact and I let them chase me. Food treats are things to be tossed, chased, chase me for the treat, rev and release to the treat, etc. I also have special toys that only come out for agility.

And I do a lot of very short drill-type work and equipment work where the dog isn't doing enough running to get sucked into just the joy of running, but is focusing on 'what do I do to get the reward again'. About the only time I do longer sequences is in class, and even then I'll stop in the middle to reward a particularly good turn or a really fast contact or anything else really good that the dog does in that run.

Part of how I reward is giving the dog my complete attention. If I string a few things together before the reward comes, the fact that I'm 100% engaged in him and what we're doing tells him we're still working and the reward is coming. I see too often handlers remove their attention from the dog to ask the instructor something or because they made a handling mistake and are thinking about what they need to do next, and the poor dog is left hanging, disconnected, with no idea that anything he just did was good in any way. Agility is a game and it's no fun when one of the players just quits. Think about when dogs play with each other - they don't give each other food or toy rewards, but they do give each other intense undivided attention and physical interaction, which is what keeps the game going and makes play so rewarding that a lot of dogs will even pass up toys or treats to play with another dog. There are two elements to reward - one is the cold calculating "I want that, so I need to figure out what to do to get it" and the other is the emotional involvement and how your reward effects the dog's emotional state in regards to the activity he's doing. If frequent rewards program that dog at a young age that these agility games are the coolest most fun thing on the planet, he's going to come to every training session with that mindset already in place instead of you having to work for that attitude in each and every situation. So you shouldn't look at what is the minimum reward to get a dog to repeat that particular behavior, but what reward will change that dog's whole emotional and drive level during a training session?

I reward after every run at a trial mainly because the reward is the dog's consolation for having to leave the ring at the end of the run :-). Knowing the reward will come at the end also builds anticipation and expectation in the dog, which will make your next run that much faster and more motivated. I don't look at it as so much a reward for that run, but money in the bank for the next run we do.

I strongly agree most people do not reward nearly enough or put enough thought into what their dog really finds rewarding. They come in with a tiny handful of kibble or cheerios thinking that will get them through a whole class. If the dog struggles with something they'll withhold reward because 'he didn't get it right on the first try'. Or they'll start jabbering to the instrutor or their friends and reward the dog so late that the dog can't possibly make the connection as to what the reward is for. Or they'll stuff a cookie in the dog's mouth but not really focus on the dog or get the dog engaged with them.
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#19 Rave

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 04:25 PM

Depends on the dog, where they are in their training, and the trainer. Do what works for you and your dog and don't worry about anyone else.

#20 zenotri

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 05:34 PM

I teach my dogs to value the rewards during the puppy foundation training stage, before the 'high' of running an actual sequence sucks them in. Because the problem with dogs whose reward is the work itself, is that they get the same reward/satisfaction from incorrect work as they do from correct work. You need some way to differeniate the really exceptional performance, the just okay performance, and the wrong performance.

The dog has to care strongly about something besides simply doing the equipment and getting to run. So I focus a lot on play with my puppies - we tug and wrestle and interact and I let them chase me. Food treats are things to be tossed, chased, chase me for the treat, rev and release to the treat, etc. I also have special toys that only come out for agility.

And I do a lot of very short drill-type work and equipment work where the dog isn't doing enough running to get sucked into just the joy of running, but is focusing on 'what do I do to get the reward again'. About the only time I do longer sequences is in class, and even then I'll stop in the middle to reward a particularly good turn or a really fast contact or anything else really good that the dog does in that run.

Part of how I reward is giving the dog my complete attention. If I string a few things together before the reward comes, the fact that I'm 100% engaged in him and what we're doing tells him we're still working and the reward is coming. I see too often handlers remove their attention from the dog to ask the instructor something or because they made a handling mistake and are thinking about what they need to do next, and the poor dog is left hanging, disconnected, with no idea that anything he just did was good in any way. Agility is a game and it's no fun when one of the players just quits. Think about when dogs play with each other - they don't give each other food or toy rewards, but they do give each other intense undivided attention and physical interaction, which is what keeps the game going and makes play so rewarding that a lot of dogs will even pass up toys or treats to play with another dog. There are two elements to reward - one is the cold calculating "I want that, so I need to figure out what to do to get it" and the other is the emotional involvement and how your reward effects the dog's emotional state in regards to the activity he's doing. If frequent rewards program that dog at a young age that these agility games are the coolest most fun thing on the planet, he's going to come to every training session with that mindset already in place instead of you having to work for that attitude in each and every situation. So you shouldn't look at what is the minimum reward to get a dog to repeat that particular behavior, but what reward will change that dog's whole emotional and drive level during a training session?

I reward after every run at a trial mainly because the reward is the dog's consolation for having to leave the ring at the end of the run :-). Knowing the reward will come at the end also builds anticipation and expectation in the dog, which will make your next run that much faster and more motivated. I don't look at it as so much a reward for that run, but money in the bank for the next run we do.

I strongly agree most people do not reward nearly enough or put enough thought into what their dog really finds rewarding. They come in with a tiny handful of kibble or cheerios thinking that will get them through a whole class. If the dog struggles with something they'll withhold reward because 'he didn't get it right on the first try'. Or they'll start jabbering to the instrutor or their friends and reward the dog so late that the dog can't possibly make the connection as to what the reward is for. Or they'll stuff a cookie in the dog's mouth but not really focus on the dog or get the dog engaged with them.


What a brilliant post! Exactly how I feel, every word of it!
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My Dogs-
Past ZAC 1995-1997, ZEUS 1997-2011, NOAH 1997-2011,
and Present TRIM, SHINE, FLY, LASS


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