Monday, June 4, 2012

More Thoughtful Rewards

We had a wonderful time in Ames over the weekend.  Weather was PERFECT!!  Grass was a nice length for all the different sizes of dogs running.  Just fantastic!

Seeker ran last on Saturday, and first on Sunday, which gave me an opportunity to watch many of the dog/handler teams.  I just love that!  I enjoy watching how people get their dog's ready to go into the ring, and of course their handling of the course as well. 

Have you ever noticed how much reinforcement is given 'outside' the ring, with the dog just standing, staring at the cookie?  Not only are the dogs receiving rewards for not running, which is what we want them to do in agility, we are also redirecting their blood flow to their digestive system (if you attended Cheryl Morris Nutrition workshop last weekend), you know this is something else we don't want to do.  If you also read any of Susan Garrett's articles, you'll also learn that 'food' develops behavior, 'tug' develops drive.  So, if you are feeding your dog 'mindlessly' outside the ring, what behavior can you expect inside the ring?

Some people might argue that their dog will run fast, no matter how many treats you give them for standing still.  This 'might' be true, but those dogs are likely not the norm.  Some might be 'afraid' to tug with these highly aroused dogs,  fearing they might be uncontrollable.  I personally don't think this is true. I think you'd be surprised at the extra speed you have the potential of getting by tugging.  That is just a different training issue, and probably a good post later on.

Back to those that feed a lot of treats outside the ring.  If you have a dog that lacks speed 'inside' the ring, the last thing you want to be doing is rewarding standing still outside the ring.  Dogs are very smart, they quickly figure out that there will not be any reinforcement inside the ring.  These are typically the same dogs that pick up speed toward the end of the course, anticipating the rewards at the end.  Guess where they come?  Outside the ring.

If you already have this 'problem', you can correct it.  I know you are going to cringe when I say, 'create a tug'.  Trust me, you can!!  I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but you can!  If you truly want passion in your running, put the time into your tug.  ANY TIME, ANY PLACE!!!  One of the Advanced Beginner students brought her 'young dog', Pink into the building to 'practice' after Advanced Class the other night.  She took Pink over a couple jumps, and was tugging with her as a reward!  Holy Cow, it was a different dog than she had in class using food!  It was amazing!!  She will be using that tug in class this week, I can guarantee it!  She stated she's been working on it, as she didn't want her to run like her other dog, just for food!  Her other dog understands the job (behavior), but lacks the passion for the game. 

If you 'must' use food, as Micheal Ellis would say, 'Make it come Alive', so at least don't give it while the dog is standing still. I see this often as well, the handler finishes a sequence and the dog is fed while standing still at the end, keep them moving. 

Finally, be sure you are rewarding your dogs in training, when they are giving you the speed you want!  STOP, just when you don't want, to because they are doing so well!  This is exactly when you want to reward, so they keep offering this behavior.  This applies to keeping bars up, fast contacts, hard weave pole entries, etc.  We don't want to stop the fun, but if you want those behaviors to continue, that is the time to do it. 

I rarely run a full course at home with Seeker, as by running a full course, I'm not able to isolate what I really want to work on.  Take a look at your training, break it down, reward for great performances, work on your tug, reward with 'moving' food, and watch for the difference in your dog's enthusiasm!  It's contagious!!

Happy Training!!  


  1. Hmm I really like this post!! I never thought about treating standing around, but you are right. Super common. Good food for thought(ful rewards!).

  2. What about if you run in an venue that doesn't allow tugging on anything in the ring (or within 10 feet of the ring), before or after your run? I can tug all I want at home, but I can't do it at a trial. Instead I treat for the tricks I ask her to perform while waiting for our turn...both simple and complex tricks. Gets her mind engaged and, I agree, she's not being rewarded for just standing around not engaged with me.

  3. Yep, I think as long as they aren't just 'standing' sucking in the cookies, that's great! Of course, every dog is do what works for you and your team member!