Last night in my Level 1 class there were some great questions on how to progress training and transition from relying on food. I've touched on the latter part in this post but what we discussed last night were Life Rewards.
The initial example was working on loose leash walking. The owner was happy with her dogs' progress, she was getting about 10 or so steps of polite walking before the dog would nudge her for a treat. My response was "Great, but don't let her tell you when it's time for a treat! Require her to take a few more steps after the nudge and then reward her polite behavior". Also we discussed mixing up the rewards with other reinforcers. Her dog loves to tug so I suggested alternating between a food reward and a 5 second game of tug for polite leash manners. We also discussed the use of off leash freedom, intense sniffing expeditions, greeting people/other dogs, getting to a place they are really excited to be; those are all Life Rewards. How your dog earns them is up to you.
My dog Sadie gets so very excited when I bring her to daycare, so much so that she is barking and whining and carrying on as well as pulling on leash. However, I refuse to allow her the reward of going in and playing with friends when she acts this way. I simply stand firm and don't advance toward the gate when she is carrying on. If she gets worse we walk away, when she settles we take a few steps forward. As long as she remains calm and isn't pulling we continue forward, if at any time (even right at the gate) she gets over excited I back her up and we start again. It can be a lengthy process, but eventually your dog will understand that calm behavior is the best way to get what he wants! It took Sadie about 5 minutes of back and forth for her to get to the gate and through it with calm behavior! Consistency is key, you can't make them do it one day and then let them pull you the next, doing that would actually strengthen the inappropriate behavior!
It happens a lot in classes too, dogs are excited to see each other and so they pull their owners over to see their friend in class...guess what your dog just learned? Yep, pulling is the best way to get what I want! So last night we talked about the importance of not letting our dogs drag us to see people or other dogs, not only is it teaching your dog bad manners it can also be very dangerous both for you and your dog. Not every person or dog wants to have their space invaded by an over exuberant dog, be considerate of everyone's space and require your dog do the same.
When utilizing a Life Reward there is often no need for food as a reward, just getting what they want is the reward, so use it to your advantage!