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Rewarding Engagement and Effort

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So…what does it look like?  Rewarding errors?

I taped Brito’s scent articles today.  We have been able to progress from about four metal articles to seven in less than five sessions – simply by allowing him to make errors with support.  Support is a euphemism for a free cookie:).

For Brito, the trick appears to be not rewarding an error more than twice in a row because while it is true that he’s happy, it’s also true that he is not getting trained!  If he fails twice in a row then I need to do something to help him succeed – with articles I just pull most of them out of the pile and work up again.  It’s working for him.

I “mark” correct choices with a combination of personality and throwing the food.  I am much quieter when he makes an error but the actual cookie is the same.

I try to start so that he’ll be correct – whatever that might mean for your dog.  Most important – if errors begin to crop up then change something.

Here’s a video of a session with metal articles – errors and all:

(Note that on the last attempt, I accidentally clicked before he had actually picked up the article so he didn’t complete the retrieve – that’s not a problem.)

I started rewarding errors with leather articles too, but I quickly realized that Brito does not understand leather articles. I went back to two articles, placing them extremely close together (so that he can compare), removing incorrect choices (spit on) and….I do not reward errors.

Separately we are working with two metal articles far apart (2 feet) so that he can learn to find the correct option without comparing two choices side by side.  I do not reward errors there either, but I’ll simplify the game if needed.

So much interesting stuff!



About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

5 responses »

  1. I’m not sure I understand when to reward errors and when not to. Your last two paragraphs muddied the waters for me and totally confused for me when to reward errors and when not to.

    • I would suggest not doing it if you don’t have a clear sense in your own mind about what you are trying to accomplish. This blog post is not meant as a “how to”; it’s meant to explore a topic that other people might want to think about for their situations.

      • I was trying to understand why you rewarded effort and then when he started having problems you didn’t. I am trying to learn but I guess this isn’t the place to ask questions raised by your post. Sorry.

      • I discuss training on Facebook – if you’d like to consider the issues further go ahead and find my FB page – then ask there under the relevant post.

  2. Sorry if this is a duplicate comment, but I didn’t know if the last one went through. I have been doing this with my little puppy when she can’t find a Nosework hide. She goes out and sniffs, and if she can’t find it she takes herself back to her “holding area.” I give her a treat and then she, as if re-inspired, comes trotting back out and finds it. It’s only happened a couple of times over the last couple weeks and it really seems to help. I feel real validated by reading this post because it felt real odd when I did it but I just felt led to do it.


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