Correctly Treating Your Puppy When Teaching It A New Behaviour

“I don’t want to always use treats when training my puppy as I don’t want my puppy to get used to only doing it with treats” or “I don’t want to train my puppy with treats at all, they should just do it and i’ll reward them with a good boy or a pat”. This is something I hear all of the time. So I ask them back, “You just finished uni and have landed your first job. You have bills to pay to keep a roof over your head and food on your plate. So it is expected that for every day you go to work you get paid for doing a good job. You just finished your first week and you get a lovely paycheck and same with the second but at the end of the third week your boss just smiles at you and says I will see you next week. You have just been paid with a smile and supposedly self gratification is meant to keep that roof over your head and food on your plate. You will probably go to work the next week to give them the benefit of the doubt and to see if it was a once off. Though again they only pay you with a smile. Would you go back and continue working for them?” Probably not. I would be pretty confident that that was the last time you worked for them as you need to be paid to live. Only once you have worked for a substantial amount of time and have established a decent amount of savings can you justify doing volunteer work and solely getting gratification from doing a good job. So why in the initial stages should we expect our puppies to learn and do a new behaviour with no payment?  

There are 3 stages to teaching your puppy a new skill of behaviour. 

  1. TEACHING PHASE: Every time your puppy successfully does the right behaviour in this period you must reward your puppy EVERY SINGLE TIME. 

  2. PROOFING PHASE: This is the phase to help your puppy understand that the newly trained behaviour is the same behaviour needed no matter the circumstance or environment.  E.g. Sit means sit when there is a car driving past or you are 15m away or it is someone else issuing the command. Focus on your 3 D’s - Distance, Duration and Distraction. You must still give your puppy a treat EVERY SINGLE TIME. 

  3. MAINTENANCE PHASE: Only once your puppy can successfully offer up the behaviour in many different locations, with different types of distractions, durations and distances after only being asked ONCE, can you start to vary the reinforcement rate and transition it to being more like the pokies (random, don’t know when you are going to hit that jackpot so you keep coming back for more). To begin introducing the varying reward schedule go by the 1 in 10 rule where 1 reinforcement out of every 10 reinforcements offered is an alternative reinforcement like a pat. Slowly you can then start to increase the varying reward schedule and then introduce randomisation to help make the behaviour more resistant to extinction of rewards.