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Cerb is in his first agility class and the learning curve is getting pretty steep. Two questions:

 

How does everyone account for the increased calorie count due to training treats? I use kibble as a reward (his eagerness and drool tells me it works), should I measure out his treats and just take it off his meals? He's really not doing any more work but he sure is getting more to eat.

 

Do you train one behavior at a time before moving on or do you alternate several in the same session?

 

One last Q: How do you tell when your dog is "done"? When I learned to juggle I was always careful to quit practicing when I started to make mistakes. If you practice too long you run the possibility of "enshrining" mistakes or bad behaviors.

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Cerb is in his first agility class and the learning curve is getting pretty steep. Two questions:

 

How does everyone account for the increased calorie count due to training treats? I use kibble as a reward (his eagerness and drool tells me it works), should I measure out his treats and just take it off his meals? He's really not doing any more work but he sure is getting more to eat.

 

I rarely adjust meals to account for training treats. If I notice that one of my dogs is starting to gain a bit of weight, I adjust meals to bring it back to normal, but I don't find that happens much.

 

If you want to adjust, though, you can measure out what he gets and take it off his meals. That's what I suggest to students who are concerned about that.

 

Do you train one behavior at a time before moving on or do you alternate several in the same session?

 

I rarely train only one thing in a session, but I do choose only one or two things that the dog is in the process of learning. I work on things that the dog has greater fluency in for the rest of the session.

 

A session for me might look like this:

 

Warm up - tricks or behaviors that the dog knows well for high rate of reinforcement, one or two reps each

 

New behavior - work on with high rate of reinforcement, not many reps

 

Behavior with high level of fluency with variable reinforcement, more reps than the new behavior, but still not many

 

Well known behavior with rate of reinforcement needed to maintain behavior - not many reps

 

Do something fun. End.

 

That's just a sample. I don't structure every session the same way, but that's generally what I tend to do in some fashion.

 

One last Q: How do you tell when your dog is "done"? When I learned to juggle I was always careful to quit practicing when I started to make mistakes. If you practice too long you run the possibility of "enshrining" mistakes or bad behaviors.

 

I think you will get a handle on this as you work with your dog.

 

One thing to know with dogs - even if you end a training session with some mistakes, the dog often comes back to the next session and does it well!

 

If I find my dog starts to make a lot of mistakes I make it easier for the dog in some way so he can be successful and then quit on that good note.

 

I always try to cut off the session before I actually want to in order to ensure that I leave the dog wanting more training!

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Meg and I are pretty new at this too (had two classes so far), but for what its worth, I do feed her less when she gets a lot of treats during the day. I also try to vary her rewards, having her work for a toy toss or praise every so often while practicing. (She works best for treats though and I always use treat for teaching new behaviors.)

 

Our trainer had us working on 2-3 different things at once. For the class, she said practice each thing 3 times, then move on to the next, whether they've 'got it' by the 3rd try or not. They'll get there eventually, as long as you keep them interested. This worked for my lab who gets bored. For the border collies, she said as long as we held their attention we could probably do each thing 5-6 times and still leave them wanting more. This was true for Meg unless she just wasn't getting it. Then we'd have to stop and do something she knew so she wouldn't get discouraged and then end our training session and try again later in the day or the next day.

 

When she gets discouraged or has had enough, Meg is not subtle about it. She walks away from me and turns around and stares at me. She'll gladly come back and work on something she knows. It took some time before I learned to balance our training so we didn't get to that point.

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i agree with root beer. i don't really count their treats in their meal plan. they seem to work it off or just handle it. i use extra special treats when training something new or difficult (weaves, accckkk!).

we train several different things at a time, even if it's just one jump exercises and i rarely work more than 15 mins on each dog. that leaves them wanting more and not too full!

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Please use something better than kibble for agility training. At least mix in something a bit more special so that your dog anticipates the good stuff. I know that some dogs are real foodies and think that kibble is super special (Secret is one) -- And while I admit to using kibble for clicker training tricks, I will never use kibble for agility training. We are asking our dogs to do something well out of the norm and they deserve to be "paid" appropriately for this task.

 

If a dog has a weight problem or is anything above "normal" on the body condition scale, I would cut down their meals to accommodate. The last thing an agility dog needs is to be fat. If I have a training session right before dinner where they get a lot of food, I am likely to feed a little less for dinner. But if I have a training session midday I don't figure it in at all. I feed my dogs their normal amount on trial weekends and heaven knows they get a lot of extras then!

 

When I teach beginners, I like to introduce one new skill per night and review the stuff they learned in previous weeks. If you spend an entire class on one skill, both the humans & the dogs get bored. Agility is about a string of behaviors, so you may as well work on several at once from day one.

 

Beginner dogs show many signs that they are "done." Sniffing is the most common for dogs that stress low. High stressing dogs will get the zoomies. If the dog starts the evening totally raring to go and happy to be there, but then starts to ignore you, the dog is done. Sometimes it works to change up your reward halfway through class to keep their interest -- But really, an hour long group class is really long & boring for the average dog.

 

Above all, agility is supposed to be a fun game for us to enjoy with our dog. If you keep beating a dead horse when the dog is obviously not having fun anymore, you are not helping the dog enjoy the game of agility. If you are dragging your dog through a sequence, the dog is done. If switching your treat or going outside for a quick game of frisbee doesn't bring back a happy-go-lucky dog, it's time to quit for the night.

 

I do think one of the worst things beginners do is push their dogs to work too long. When I train my dogs at home, it's very common for the babies to work for five minutes. Really, I rarely work any individual dog longer than 15 minutes. I feel that if you drag it out too long, it becomes unproductive and repetitive. Short sessions seem to stick with them better. It leaves them wanting more.

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Regarding treats - I agree that a higher-value treat than kibble should be used. (Although at some point, just doing the agility course becomes its own reward and using a bit of kibble won't hurt.)

 

Divide treats into 3 categories - high, medium and low value.

Here is what I do (or at least I try to):

When learning a new trick/obstacle - use a super-high value treat. Some people keep the steak or roast beef or hot dog or dried liver for these special times. You are asking the dog to go outside of its comfort zone, and they will do it more willingly if they are appropriately rewarded. There is also the concept of a 'jackpot' when they are successful.

 

Use a medium-value treat for a behavior that is somewhat familiar. Medium-value treats may be string cheese or hot dogs or certain commercial training treats.

 

Low value treats can be used to reinforce an ingrained behavior. I have sometimes used kibble too, but you can make it more interesting by mixing kibble and hot dog bits or chicken bits in a treat bag. That way, the kibble takes on some of the flavor of the 'better stuff'.

 

These are not hard and fast rules. Each dog can have different high, medium and low value treats. You can also switch up the treats just to keep the dog interested i.e. give some high value treats when doing a familiar behavior.

 

Generally, in the early phases of agility, particularly when learning new obstacles, just use treats. But another reward is a toy - and toys can be very effective once you want your dog to drive forward in agility. Again, you have to observe your dog to see how they perceive toys and what value to assign to each toy. My dog gets too amped up with toys and can get sloppy with certain obstacles and sequences because he is thinking about the toy. So at times like that, when the toy is too high in value, I have to use food.

 

Jovi

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Please use something better than kibble for agility training. <snip> I will never use kibble for agility training. We are asking our dogs to do something well out of the norm and they deserve to be "paid" appropriately for this task.

 

Sorry to hijack the thread for a second,

 

But what is wrong with using a lower-value treat if that is working, the dog is happy and drooling, etc.? I don't do agility, so correct me if I'm wrong. But it seems weird to think of "paying" the dog to do it. Don't most dogs that do agility *want* to do it, as in they enjoy the activities and training and hanging out with their owner as a good portion of the reward itself? And aren't the treats a way to communicate to your dog what you want, and beyond that just icing on the cake?

 

I guess it's the asking them to do something out of the norm meaning they need to get "paid" that's throwing me.

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Sigh.

 

I love my job at the Humane Society, but do you think I'm going to do it for free?

 

Dogs should never be expected to do anything "because they love us and want to spend time with us." They learn things and perform tricks for us because there is value in doing them -- Somewhere in the learning process they got "paid" via their favorite "currency" (toys, treats, etc). As a dog becomes more solid in the behavior we do wean off the reward and start to reward intermittently, but if the dog never ever again sees a reward for doing the behavior, the dog will eventually stop doing the behavior. This is a fundamental theory in all positive/reward-based dog training.

 

TRAINED agility dogs *do* see high value in simply doing the sport. Certain obstacles become self rewarding for the dog, usually because of the connection we make to a high value reward during training. Doing a set of 12 weave poles is hard work and unlike anything else a dog does in their daily life. But because of the value we attach to the weaves in training, some dogs come to view these as their favorite obstacle. Other dogs think tunnels are the funnest thing in the world -- But 99% of dogs do not go to their first day of agility class thinking that way. Many dogs are SCARED of the obstacles when first introduced.

 

Taking a step back, though -- Even my oldest dog does not work for free. He is an agility junky. He is never happier than when running (okay, frisbee, too). BUT, even he has his conditions. At home he plods through the exercises unless I have his ball somewhere on me -- That is his currency. When he does an exercise correctly, I throw his ball.

 

The atmosphere at trials seems to amp them up regardless of the lack of reward on my person -- But likely it is because they are so highly conditioned that they will receive a jackpot of rewards at the completion of the run.

 

So NO. Dogs do not do hard work for us because they love us.

 

Regarding the value of the reward -- Would you work harder if someone offered you $100 to do something or $1? If you were paid $100 to get an A on a test, would you study harder than if you were paid $1? Higher reward value = Higher degree of learning.

 

So if you feel your dog is learning at a satisfactory rate with a low value reward, imagine the difference with something better. Higher value = More speed, drive, enthusiasm.

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But what is wrong with using a lower-value treat if that is working, the dog is happy and drooling, etc.?

 

Personally, if the dog obviously wants the treat and is working willingly, I consider it to be of appropriate value.

 

There are times when Dean will turn his nose up at something that would normally be higher value, but he works for Taste of the Wild. So, in that instance, the TOTW is actually higher value!

 

I don't do agility, so correct me if I'm wrong. But it seems weird to think of "paying" the dog to do it. Don't most dogs that do agility *want* to do it, as in they enjoy the activities and training and hanging out with their owner as a good portion of the reward itself?

 

Well, yes. And no!

 

If you are talking about a trained and seasoned Agility dog, sure - the enjoyment of the activity and sharing the game with the handler is highly rewarding. Last night a good friend who has been away for several months took Maddie out for a spin on the Agility course and Maddie's eyes were shining and she was preening around, so happy to be playing Agility with her buddy. From the way she ran the course, it was evident that running with her friend was pure joy for Maddie and she needed nothing else in the way of reinforcement.

 

But, for a dog who is just learning Agility, that is often not the case. Yes, some dogs just naturally take to it and love interacting with the equipment, but many need to learn the job that goes with the equipment and gain a certain reinforcement history with that piece of equipment before that enjoyment of the activity is there. That same Maddie needed loads of hot dog to coax her through tunnels and over the A-Frame when she was first learning. There was no enjoyment in it at that point and she needed to be "paid" big time in the learning process. Now that she knows the game and loves it, she doesn't need that.

 

And aren't the treats a way to communicate to your dog what you want, and beyond that just icing on the cake?

 

Well, there is a bit more to it. They can be motivators for a dog who needs motivation for one reason or another. First learning is one example. Another might be to help the dog relax in a stressful situation. Or treats might be used to give a dog a general sense that all is good for whatever reason.

 

Also, they should serve as reinforcers. Using Maddie as an example, she went over an A-Frame that was totally baited with hot dogs twice and after that she was absolutely in love with the A-Frame. It was never baited again, but she knew what she was to do with it (go over it) and she did so with enthusiasm. That's what a good reinforcer does - it causes the dog to want to do what he or she has learned.

 

I guess it's the asking them to do something out of the norm meaning they need to get "paid" that's throwing me.

 

Last Maddie example, but when she was learning the tunnel, she clearly did not see any good reason to go through it. She would stand there and look through it and try to go around it or just stand and look at us like, "Really?" Then we showed her that she would get "paid" (aka hot dog) for going through. After doing that for a while, she understood that the reason to go through the tunnel was to get "paid" (aka hot dog). Much later, she came to enjoy running through the tunnel for it's own sake, and as part of a larger game that she enjoyed, so she doesn't get "paid" for going through tunnels now. But that could not be there at first since it didn't make sense to her.

 

Of course, food is not the only option for reinforcement and/or motivation. For some dogs, toys are appropriate. Some enjoy hugs and snuggles. He's a bit more seasoned now, but often I call Dean into heel and let him heel around a bit as a reward for running a good course. He loves heeling so I can use it as a reinforcer/motivator for Agility.

 

But the easiest reinforcer is usually treats, and most dogs work for them nicely.

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Sigh.

 

I love my job at the Humane Society, but do you think I'm going to do it for free?

 

...

So if you feel your dog is learning at a satisfactory rate with a low value reward, imagine the difference with something better. Higher value = More speed, drive, enthusiasm.

 

It seems I've annoyed you, and that wasn't my intention. Reading your post I really do look at training from a different angle than you, though. I think I have higher expectations of what my dog should happily do for "nothing", just because that's part of being with me, and that he gets a lot of enjoyment from doing stuff with me, whether discretely rewarded or not. One of my friends called him a "blinking command line" :lol: which makes him sound robotic, but that's not really how it is. It's more like as soon as I get his attention, he's like what can we do now? I realize not all dogs will be like this.

 

And I reward my dog, and use both treats and toys to motivate/communicate during certain forms of training, but I don't ever think of it as paying him. Ever. And I can't really know, but I honestly don't think he thinks of it that way either.**

 

Back to the original issue, though: I do best with medium rewards, actually - Odin will usually spit out his kibble if I try to use it in training after the first couple of pieces. But if I use something really high value, it drives him too crazy, and then he doesn't think properly and just sort of starts reacting. Same with toys - a quick toss-catch is best. Too much exuberant tug, while a good jackpot and session-ender, gets him pretty loopy-happy. From what LM described, it just sounded to me like the treats were, at least for now, appropriate given the reaction he described, like his dog was enjoying it well. But again, I don't train agility, so take this with a big handful of salt.

 

**ETA - to clarify my thoughts, I just don't think the employer-employee relationship model is the metaphor for the way I want my dog and I to be. I want it to be more like friends/partners and sometimes a teacher-student. Friends don't pay you to hang out with them or even to help them with work that needs to be done; teachers don't pay their students to learn, although they may reward them to motivate.

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Sorry to hijack the thread for a second,

 

But what is wrong with using a lower-value treat if that is working, the dog is happy and drooling, etc.? I don't do agility, so correct me if I'm wrong. But it seems weird to think of "paying" the dog to do it. Don't most dogs that do agility *want* to do it, as in they enjoy the activities and training and hanging out with their owner as a good portion of the reward itself? And aren't the treats a way to communicate to your dog what you want, and beyond that just icing on the cake?

 

I guess it's the asking them to do something out of the norm meaning they need to get "paid" that's throwing me.

 

 

I agree...Let the dog tell you what is high value to him/her. Lucky you that your dog gets that excited for kibble-LOL!

 

Janet

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Ooky, my frustrations stem from my years of teaching students with your mindset. That dogs should do stuff we ask them to do "just because" and other similar reasons. I actually have had students come to class with nothing but their dog, expecting their dog to just do what they say. So often I have had students give me a blank look when I ask them what kind of treat they are using. Kibble or broken up Milk Bones are a common treat for beginners to bring -- So imagine their surprise when their dog won't stop fixating on the student next to them who brought cheese or liver.

 

Training a dog to do agility is complicated. There is so much more than simply teaching them to perform obstacles. There is also criteria that goes along with the obstacles (contacts in particular) as well as gobs of handling between the obstacles. It is not simple behaviors, it is a lot of mental work for the dog (and the handler).

 

And on that note -- Beginner handlers screw up A LOT. Half the time I think the dog deserves a good reward for putting up with the miscues of the handler. Otherwise they get annoyed & flustered and start to shut down.

 

Yes, there are some dogs you can hit over the head with a 2x4 and they will still look at you with stars in their eyes wondering what you will do next. But the majority of dogs that come to agility classes are not that way and they require motivation in the form of high value treats or toys.

 

But no matter what, I don't feel that any dog should learn new behaviors just for the joy of being with us and wanting to please us. They are their own beings with their own thoughts & motivations. It is our job to tap into those motivations to shape the behaviors we desire.

 

A dog who is too loopy to focus around certain treats or toys needs work on impulse control. There is no problem in going to lower value rewards to work through the problem, but the goal should be able to work around any type of distraction, including something the dog deems as "highest value."

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Good post, Karissa.

 

Lewis Moon, I don't see a problem using kibble for Cerb, if it's working. However, it certainly wouldn't hurt to up the ante and see how his motivation and enthusiasm might increase with a higher value reward. Also, good advice on stopping a training session before the dog is mentally done, and always ending on a good note. Most of all, have fun!

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Please use something better than kibble for agility training. At least mix in something a bit more special so that your dog anticipates the good stuff. I know that some dogs are real foodies and think that kibble is super special (Secret is one) -- And while I admit to using kibble for clicker training tricks, I will never use kibble for agility training. We are asking our dogs to do something well out of the norm and they deserve to be "paid" appropriately for this task.

 

I think it all comes down to knowing your dog. If your dog adores kibble, then why not use it? I have a dog who loves the training process and loves kibble rewards. I don't always use kibble, but it has a secure place in the training treat rotation. Another trick I like to use is have a bag of mixed value treats - like 2/3 kibble and 1/3 food roll chunks.

 

If you've built a good reward system with your dog and worked on focus in activities leading up to class, you can usually use lower value rewards

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So, I was pondering this subject some more...

 

I can use any type of treat, high or low value, to reward Alex in agility. Or, I can not reward him at all. He will willingly give his all to me, regardless. But, since he's out there because I asked him to, because he's the one doing weird things like weave poles and A-frames, not me, why wouldn't I want to give him a *good* reward for doing it?

 

I realize this makes it more about me than him, but I'm ok with that. *shrugs*

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Totally agree. I reward my dogs heavily at trials because I have such a great appreciation for the sheer effort they are putting out on my behalf.

 

I'm quite certain I could go an entire weekend without giving Luke one single morsel of food and he would run as fast in run twelve as he did in run one. But personally, I get a great amount of joy from the simple act of jackpotting after a run.

 

I spend almost an hour preparing special "trial treats" before a trial weekend (guess what I'm doing tonight!). They probably don't care if they get boiled chicken and carefully cut cheese cubes or pre-packaged treats like Snausages. (lol) But I enjoy making them the special treats because I appreciate that they work so hard for me.

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Ooky, my frustrations stem from my years of teaching students with your mindset. That dogs should do stuff we ask them to do "just because" and other similar reasons. I actually have had students come to class with nothing but their dog, expecting their dog to just do what they say. So often I have had students give me a blank look when I ask them what kind of treat they are using. Kibble or broken up Milk Bones are a common treat for beginners to bring -- So imagine their surprise when their dog won't stop fixating on the student next to them who brought cheese or liver.

 

...

 

A dog who is too loopy to focus around certain treats or toys needs work on impulse control. There is no problem in going to lower value rewards to work through the problem, but the goal should be able to work around any type of distraction, including something the dog deems as "highest value."

 

I don't think you understand "my" mindset at all. If I went to an agility class, I'd turn up with what I already know to work well for training my dog "fun stuff" (like tricks and freestyle-type things): medium quality treats, a ball, and a tug. I just wouldn't think of it as paying my dog, for the reasons I already mentioned. I would think of them as something to communicate, motivate, and make the whole fun game more fun. *shrugs*

 

Maybe Odin does need better impulse control - but I also think it is a little unfair of me to intentionally get him ramped up with really super exciting fun tasty play-and-food rewards and then expect him to be totally calm and able to think, at least to the level I know he's capable of. Especially when he's shown me he does great if I just dial it down a notch. And this dog, who loves sheep more than anything, calls off them at my command when it's clear he personally reeeeally doesn't want to; does not chase squirrels unless specifically released; can walk off leash on city streets safely; and comports himself well at my office and stays where he should, even though he knows all sorts of fun people with treats or toys are located in nearby offices and cubicles. So the concept of instilling impulse control is not completely foreign to me.

 

But all this is getting off topic. I didn't quote the middle part of your post, but it definitely makes sense to me and gets me a lot closer to understanding where you're coming from - so thanks for that. I still disagree about a dog learning something new "just to please" you being cruel or something. I think a lot of dogs (BCs especially) really love working with and learning with their people, and imho that's a bigger and more satisfying motivator on its own than you are giving it credit for in these posts. In some cases, I wouldn't ask my dog to learn something just for that reason, because for stuff I think comes less naturally to the dog like games and tricks and stuff, I think it's often way easier to communicate with discrete rewards, and it keeps it really fun for the dog. But I would think that generally liking working with me would still be a big PART of the reason the dog is working with me.

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Karissa, you may not have intended it to be perceived this way, but your posts come off as very condescending (sigh). You've got years of experience in one aspect of dog care and training. Excellent. Please don't assume that anyone who doesn't practice your particular methods is just like that dumbass you saw last week. Respect that others with different training philosophies may have equally valid, and possibly more extensive, experience with other aspects of dog care and training, and they, too, can be and have been successful training dogs to very high levels (perhaps even higher than agility).

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Sorry. I don't coddle my students, nor do I coddle those on the internet. My style of teaching doesn't suit everyone, so be it.

 

And as a friend involved in herding once told me -- Everything I know about training in agility goes completely out the window when we step into the pen with sheep. It is not the same.

 

In that vein, I really don't think that training dogs in other areas is relative to agility training. Until you've done it, and done it for some time with multiple dogs, I really don't think you can fully appreciate all the work that goes into it.

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This is the problem with "he should do it to please me" in the early stages of training Agility.

 

You are standing in front of the tunnel with a dog who is just starting to learn Agility. The dog is supposed to go through the tunnel "to please the owner". Know how that usually plays out? The owner is calling the dog through and the dog is trying to go around this weird new thing. In order to instill more of a desire to please, the owner starts tapping on the tunnel and running her hands up and down it's sides. Now the dog really doesn't want to go through this strange thing that is making unexpected strange noise. The "desire to please" must be turned up a notch, so the dog is finally pushed or dragged through the tunnel.

 

Granted, there are many dogs who learn the tunnel by being dragged through it (although that is not my method of choice), but really - the dog is not doing it to please anyone. He is doing it because he is being pushed or dragged. Eventually he does because he knows he will be dragged or pushed if he doesn't. That is really not a desire to please.

 

I find the idea that the dog should learn new things to "please" the handler is frequently a euphemism for "I'm going to make him do it".

 

We could debate use of making the dog go through tunnels, walk over boards, hop over jumps, etc. as a way of introducing Agility to a dog, but the fact is that such an approach is no more the dog learning in order to "please" the handler than the dog doing these things for pieces of hot dog is.

 

So I ask. You have a dog who is new to Agility and is not willing to go through a tunnel. The tunnel is new and strange and the dog doesn't know what he is supposed to do with it. How do you get him to do it by really tapping into his "desire to please?"

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I find the idea that the dog should learn new things to "please" the handler is frequently a euphemism for "I'm going to make him do it".

 

-----

 

So I ask. You have a dog who is new to Agility and is not willing to go through a tunnel. The tunnel is new and strange and the dog doesn't know what he is supposed to do with it. How do you get him to do it by really tapping into his "desire to please?"

 

I don't think anyone is saying don't use treat or that there isn't a place for high value treats. Just that you don't always need them in training like Secret BC said. I have a dog that will happily take my fingers off for kibble in many training situations. I'd hate to think what she'd do with a "high value treat" in those situations :lol:

 

If you've laid the groundwork in previous training then you tap into it. For example the OP has worked with his dog for months under a variety of situations. He's worked on focus and building a good reward system with his dog. The dog sounds like he's very happy to work for kibble. So why not use it??? Just because it doesn't work for every person and every dog doesn't mean it won't work for some.

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I don't think anyone is saying don't use treat or that there isn't a place for high value treats. Just that you don't always need them in training like Secret BC said. I have a dog that will happily take my fingers off for kibble in many training situations. I'd hate to think what she'd do with a "high value treat" in those situations :lol:

 

If you've laid the groundwork in previous training then you tap into it. For example the OP has worked with his dog for months under a variety of situations. He's worked on focus and building a good reward system with his dog. The dog sounds like he's very happy to work for kibble. So why not use it??? Just because it doesn't work for every person and every dog doesn't mean it won't work for some.

 

Personally, I do use kibble when my dog works well for it, or even prefers it. I use kibble, other food treats, toys, and environmental rewards, when and where appropriate whether the dog is in the initial learning stages, is gaining fluency, or to maintain skills.

 

And yes, there are some dogs that you can point to a piece of equipment and the dog will just do it and all is good.

 

Still, you might someday need a particularly high value reinforcer (of some type) when teaching a rear cross on that piece of equipment, or to maintain focus when the Agility field is adjacent to a sheep pasture, or you might want to really let the dog know he has done a job well when he takes that piece of equipment within a particularly challenging sequence.

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I am been involved with agility for many years. I am competing with my 4th agility dog, training my 5th that I have owned , have competed with a total of 26 dogs and have competed with dogs in every jump height from 26” on down to the gerbil like things jumping at 4 and 8 inches. I have also trained outside of agility (gun dogs and horses). None of this makes me a prophet.

 

I have always used, and asked my students to use, multiple values of treats when training. Lower value treats for things that were already taught, higher value treats for new things or for “jobs well done”. I also use play…a lot. This allows for a wider variety of reinforcement. As things progress, the activity of agility becomes very self reinforcing for some but I still want to use external reinforcement (tug especially) to keep the dog tuned into the handler. The last thing I want is the dog to blast off doing anything in front of them because they are in self reinforcement mode.

 

In the beginning we will train one thing at a time doing a few things a session then start to string them together into small sequences once each individual obstacle is pretty well established. Training sessions for my personal dogs tend to be short seldom lasting more than 7 to 10 minutes of actual training (sessions are longer in time due to set up/change of equipment etc). In these situations I have never worried about extra calorie intake. In fact, for my own dogs, they have always had enough other exercise/activity that a handful of treats never made any difference. Some of my students dogs over the years did have to cut back somewhere but those dogs were “heavy” to start with.

 

As far as when to tell if the dog is done, I try never to get to that point. I like to stop when the dog is wanting more rather than having had enough. I won’t say it has never happened and it does happen in my training classes on occasion. I usually see that the dogs will “disengage” from the activity or stop engaging the handler directly. I will stop my students if I feel their dog has gotten to that point. They (student) may not like it but on day one of class I explain that I am an advocate for their dog , that I will more often than not side with the dog and error in favor of the dog.

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Interesting that the topic of 'training treats' has so many opinions. We, as BC owners, are incredibly lucky when participating in agility since we do have a dog that 'wants to please'. I view it as BCs having a 'built-in engine', whereas many other breeds need work on 'building their engine', or desire, for agility. To build that desire to play at agility for non-BCs, the high-value treats, etc. are very useful. I admire the people who run non-working dogs successfully because they have obviously put a lot of time into training.

 

I do use multiple types of treats depending on what skill I am working on, but just as often, I rush out of the house with whatever I can grab going out the door and often it is not the optimal (according to the experts) type of treat. My dog seems happy to play agility regardless, but I am also happy to be able to reward him (or pay him or motivate him - whatever word you want to use) with treats.

 

One example of how cool BCs are: I had just done a short sequence in agility class, and my dog was raring to go again. He was having great fun, his eyes were shining, his mouth open and he was focused on my next direction. My instructor admonished me for not 'jackpotting' him for successfully completing the sequence (which I usually do, but I just forgot this time). I don't know why I acted out a little, but I asked her "Do you know how you reward a BC for running 100 miles gathering sheep? Let him run another 100 miles." She just glared at me, and I figured I was not her favorite student at that moment. :rolleyes:

 

Jovi

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