Don’t Get Stuck on Food (Part 2)

Take the “Bribe” Out of the Equation

As we reviewed in our last post, getting behaviors without showing food first is called fading a lure and it is something you must learn!

Fading a lure can be achieved in 5 steps. Skilled trainers adapt these steps to match the individual dog’s training progress, but once you get these basics down, you’ll get the most out of food – nature’s most powerful motivator since sex!  

Read on for the last 2 steps plus an overall summary. (For steps 1 – 3 in our last post, click here.)

4. Use life rewards, delayed rewards  and hidden rewards

Once a behavior is well-trained, you can reward in so many ways. Got stick? If so, tug is a reward!

Once a behavior is well-trained, you can reward in so many ways. Got stick? If so, tug is a reward!

Once your dog performs a behavior consistently (in training we call it being fluent in a behavior), there are ways you can reward a dog without showing him the food first. Rewards keep behaviors strong, but you don’t have to bribe the dog by showing him what’s in the offing before he performs. Let’s look at each reward type listed above:

Life rewards are activities your dog loves, such as door-opening privileges, getting a ball thrown, access to play with other dogs, etc.

Delayed rewards are rewards that come several seconds or more after the behavior is performed. A common example is when your dog responds to a recall by running back into the house. You might then run to the kitchen together where you open the fridge and reward him with a piece of cheese. Use praise to bridge the time gap.

Hidden rewards are those that your dog didn’t realize were there – a surprise (which is powerfully rewarding in itself). Before a training or proofing session, you can pre-hide rewards anywhere:  a drawer, a tree branch, an inside pocket – just make sure your dog doesn’t see or smell them before you reward him.

5. Practice in new areas

To put the finishing touches on a behavior you have to generalize it, which means teaching the dog to perform it in many different situations.  Practice in a few different places (various rooms of your house, the yard, the street, the park, etc.). Make it easy for the dog by going back to step 1 of luring whenever you add a level of distraction (new situation or environment). Doing a recall or a stay at home is nothing like getting it done at the dog park! You have to be willing to be more generous with rewards in distracting situations. In other words, take a couple of steps back to get the behavior fluent in the new place, then you can start fading the lure out again relatively quickly.

The Wrap

Once you have these 5 steps going, gradually switch from rewarding all instances of a behavior, to most, to a random few. If you don’t do this gradually, the dog will lose interest. Picture yourself in a casino playing a slot machine, where you win every time you play. If all of a sudden you completely stop winning, you’ll get up and leave that machine for sure. This is what happens to our dogs when all of a sudden, we stop rewarding completely. Instead, shift to random rewards gradually. When you turn yourself into an unpredictable slot machine that sometimes pays big, your dog will become addicted to the game.

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