Being an artist, I find a great deal of joy in being creative. I find this is easily applied to dog training as well. As a clicker trainer, the bread and butter of my training is clicking the behavior I want and rewarding with a treat. But I’m not limited to that alone. In fact, I find offering up other rewards actually creates a stronger and/or more animated behavior.
I figured this out about a year ago. I was working on Risa’s recalls and had decided to use a tug toy as a reward. One day, I called Risa to me and rewarded her with a treat instead of a vigorous game of tug. The look on her face was priceless. She had been expecting the fun tug game not a quick snack. By continuing to use the tug as a reward for recalling, her recall became much stronger. I can now reward it with food if I want to but, by using a tug reward, I created a much faster behavior. And one she’s more willing to offer!
I also started doing this with her freestyle training. I used chasing her flirt pole as a reward for completing sequences. I saw a lot more enthusiasm and drive in her performances when the flirt pole was involved.
Most recently, I’ve been trying to make heeling fun. It seems rather silly that I know the importance of groundwork in agility but never thought of the importance of it in rally and freestyle! Slacking on heelwork makes it very difficult to get stellar performances in the ring. It’s hard to cue the next behavior if your dog has checked out during the distance in between them.
To reward focused heelwork, I’ve started adding in a variety of rewards. Sometimes I reward with vigorous petting. I also reward with games of tug. And I still use treats as well. The best reward so far has been a game of chase. Risa’s favorite activity is running. It’s a very powerful reward. So I’ve been letting her chase me to reinforce focused heeling. On top of that, it builds more value for me. I may not always have treats or a toy on me. But I can always break out into a game of chase!
It’s also much more exciting for me to add in a variety of rewards. I never found heeling all that interesting either but it’s starting to become more fun. I’m finding out it’s much more interactive to train this way and much more enjoyable. Especially when you see that happy grinning face and tail wagging at you after a race around the yard. 🙂