It’s a little-known fact that dogs will naturally migrate to where food or rewards occur. Many trainers don’t take advantage of this tendency, which is unusual, especially considering it’s so simple and easy to achieve quick results with appropriate food placement.
Taking advantage of food placement is particularly relevant when teaching distance behaviours. If you want your dog to perform behaviours at a distance, then your rewards should also take place at a distance.
While I plan to blog in more detail about food placement in training at a later date, I have created a video which illustrates the process in teaching a distance drop with the food placement method alone, using my girl Myrtle.
This is a brief summary of the method:
- Before you start, the dog should first have a pretty firm understanding of ‘drop’. In this example, Myrtle knew that ‘drop’ meant elbows and hocks on the ground. (However, her understanding was a bit loose and we probably needed more practice before starting distance training!)
- Tell the dog ‘drop’. When the dog drops, regardless of where they are positioned, the behaviour is marked (click or yes) and then a reward is thrown a distance away for the dog to pursue.
- As the dog is returning from the reward, the dog is asked to drop again. The dog will naturally move towards you (as they have a strong reinforcement history with you), and will probably action the drop in close proximity to you. This proximity doesn’t matter – you mark the behaviour, and then again throw the reward away from you.
- This process of ‘drop’, mark, and distance reward is continued. Over time, the dog will begin to perform the behaviour further and further away from you (migrating towards the reward’s placement).
- As this process takes place, you may start to undertake differential reinforcement – so only rewarding behaviours that are performed away from you, at gradually increasing distances.
And seriously, that’s it! Placing rewards is all you need to increase distance in your training.
I am not illusioned that this video is the best that Myrtle or I could do, but I hope it is suffice to illustrate the method at hand. I look forward to your comments.
Crystal at Reactive Champion described how putting thought into ball-throwing (reward placement) improved Maisy’s heeling, in her post: More Heeling.
Richard Curtis uses reward placement in one of his DVDs – but I don’t remember which one! He’s only got two, though, and I’m sure they’re both good if you wanted to buy both. Click through to Richard Curtis’ DVDs.