Positive dog trainers are often accused of bribing dogs to respond to cues (such as ‘sit’ or ‘down’). But the goal of positive training is to reward, not bribe, the dog.
What is the difference between a bribe and a reward? Let’s use the ‘sit’ cue as an example, because this is usually one of the first cues dogs learn. If you ask your dog to sit, and he doesn’t (even though you are sure he knows how) and you then pull out a treat, show it to him, and the dog then sits – that’s a bribe!
If you ask your dog to sit using only a verbal cue and/or hand signal, and your dog sits, and you then give him a treat after he is sitting, that is a reward.
So how do you teach your dog to eventually perform a cue without bribing? The technique is called ‘fading the lure’ and the key is to try to get rid of the food lure as quickly as possible.
Let’s use teaching our dog to spin (turning in a circle clockwise) as an example of how you might fade the food lure.
Click hereto see what this would look like.
Have a food treat in both hands. Using your right hand, hold the treat right above your dog’s nose and lure him around clockwise, doing a spin. Do not say the word ‘spin’ yet. You don’t want to start using the cue (‘spin’) until your dog offers the spin – until you see the light bulb go on!
As soon as your dog has completed the spin, mark it with a high-pitched “YES” (your verbal marker) and make a big show of giving him the treat out of your OTHER hand – the left hand – the hand that was NOT doing the luring.
Do this two or three times.
Now pretend you have a treat in your right hand (but still have one in your left hand). Lure your dog into a spin, using your right (empty) hand. Make your dog think you have a treat in your right hand even though you don’t (it’s a fake treat!)
As soon as the dog has completed the spin, mark it with a high-pitched “YES” (your verbal marker) and show your dog the empty right hand you lured him with. Make a big show of it, but then immediately reward your dog out of your left hand.
Your dog may be surprised that there was no treat in your luring hand (the right hand), so quickly go back and do one or two more repetitions with the treat in your right luring hand but still rewarding out of your left.
Then do a repetition with no treat in your right luring hand, rewarding from the other hand.
Do this two or three times more and stop.
Practice this again later. Try only using a food treat in your right hand the first time, and quickly go to luring with no treat in your right hand and rewarding out of your left hand after showing your dog NO TREAT in the right hand.
Start fading the PHYSICAL lure slightly (your hand spinning above the dogs head). You can do this by just making the movement a bit less obvious – a smaller circle or just a flick of the wrist. Once your dog seems to get it, start adding the verbal cue, “spin”.
See if you can quickly do three spins in a row, only rewarding with a food treat the first and third time. The second time, be sure to reward your dog verbally (good dog!) and by petting or scratching his chin.
What you want to do now is start rewarding with a food treat randomly. Keep it fast-moving and fun.
Eventually, have the food reward hidden in your pocket or in a bowl on a nearby table and continue rewarding randomly. Keep it fast moving and fun, and when you don’t reward with a food treat, be sure to reward verbally, with a chin scratch or belly rub, a game of fetch with his favorite toy or a rousing game of chase.