Backing off treats

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Backing off treats

Postby Gwennei88 » Wed Sep 06, 2006 12:42 pm

Question about training with treats....

Mae is quite good with obedience when treats are out. She does sit, down, stand, and will usually even stay - we've worked up to about 30 seconds at 15 feet or so.

But heaven forbid I have no treats out, and she couldn't care less about listening. If I stand there giving commands, she'll eventually sit or lie down, but not really in response to my command. I try the "slot machine" theory, i.e. just give treats randomly during training, but as soon as she does one command right without getting a treat, she gets stubborn again right away for the next one.

Is it just gonna take some time? Cause I can wait ... I guess I'm just looking for some reassurance that eventually she'll listen without food involved.

Oh yeah... if she doesn't get a treat she still gets tons and tons of praise and rubs when she listens.
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Postby Natalie » Wed Sep 06, 2006 4:37 pm

I think that for the most part, it will just take time. Is there anything besides food that motivates her? Maybe a squeaky toy or something? Trip is definitely far more eager to respond if he thinks food is involved, but he will respond without them, even if sometimes half-heartedly. I think you're doing the right thing with the slot-machine approach. When I use food as a reward, I'm trying to make them think that they aren't always going to get a food-treat, but really might "this time". Once I get that programmed into their little heads, I get more consistent responses or at least a willingness to consider what I'm asking. If she doesn't seem excited about the possiblity of "maybe" getting a treat, you may want to give them a little more often so that she gets excited about the sessions themselves, then start to back off on the treats gradually and go back to slot-machine mode.

With Trip, I gave treats pretty frequently at first for each trick (sit, down, spin, touch, stay, etc.). Then I'd ask him to sit, then down and he got the treat after the down. Then I'd make him sit, spin, down before giving him one. Then started mixing in rubs instead of treats, etc.

The big thing is keeping the training fun for her. If she's engaged and having fun, she's more likely to respond. Keeping the session short helps, too. When I'm training a new one, I'll do 1-minute sessions throughout the day, which keeps them from getting bored with whatever I'm asking them to do. And it doesn't give them enough time to think "hey, I'm doing all of this stuff and not getting very much food for it!"
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Postby Lisa » Wed Sep 20, 2006 9:15 pm

Is it just gonna take some time? Cause I can wait ... I guess I'm just looking for some reassurance that eventually she'll listen without food involved.


:lol: It'll just take time. If she starts being a brat and demanding a treat for doing something, I'd pat her, tell her she's a good girl, and walk away. Then try again in a few minutes, and when she does something right, give her a treat. She'll figure out quick enough that demanding a treat doesn't get anything, but doing something right sometimes does get her a treat.

It took Buster a while to learn he wasn't always getting a treat. At first, I often combined his treat with a "good boy," so he understood the praise meant he was doing something right. It made it a little easier to just transition to a "good boy." I still praise and if a treat is handy, reward for every little thing, but he no longer expects a treat.
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Postby Barb Wright » Wed Sep 20, 2006 10:41 pm

Natalie wrote:... And it doesn't give them enough time to think "hey, I'm doing all of this stuff and not getting very much food for it!"


These are very smart dogs and very manipulative as well....sorta goes along with brains :wink: Once they "know" the command, too many repetitions without reward is like "hey, this is pretty boringboringboring". Once they know the commands I would get pretty random about when you do it and also limit the time to a minute or so. Then plan a "nonsense" play time with them for a few minutes, or something diversionary and non-obedience. Keeping a smart dog interested and involved is sometimes harder than the training itself. A good teacher works hard at keeping their students interested and involved :wink: Good luck :D
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Postby Lisa H » Thu Sep 21, 2006 4:37 pm

I have heard of this topic coming up on my training lists a lot and one reason may be, ironically enough, that your rate of reinforcement is not high enough and long enough. I am not very good at explaining, but the idea is think of the treats you give your dog as money in the bank...you have to have ALOT of money(treats for behaviour) in the bank(dog) before you can make withdrawals(sits, downs, etc) without giving a treat. In other words, people sometimes wean off treats too fast before the dog has learned to do it without even thinking about it. Also, keep it short and surprising. I have a small bowl of treats on the counter and sometimes when I walk by and Annie is with me (which is all the time!) I ask for a down or heel and run to the bowl(which is part of the fun) and toss her a treat. But in the beginning, I reward heavily for behaviours, so she just "automatically" does it. Hope this makes sense? Let me know if not and I will try and find you a link.... :)
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Postby Gwennei88 » Fri Sep 22, 2006 7:11 am

Thanks guys.

Lisa H - I understand exactly what you're saying. It's kind of hard to imagine this is happening because Mae gets a ridiculously large amount of treats during training. But who knows... I'll keep it up.

It just cracks me up that everytime I have any food or treat in my hand, she goes through the whole routine... sit, down, stand ... hoping I'll share. Then I ask for a sit and if she can't see and/or smell food, she just stares at me like "you're joking, right?" Arghhhh!!

I have started holding treats in my hand the whole time, but only giving them after the third or fourth proper behavior, and we only have random 2 minute sessions throughout the day. That seems to help, at least a little. Baby steps :D :D
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Postby Catharina » Fri Sep 22, 2006 8:52 am

Two things helped us:

First, we practiced "stay" a lot. Somehow asking for a "sit", and then next asking for a "stay" while withholding the treat until the "stay" was finished seemed to make more sense to Kibo, than asking for a "sit", then a "down" without a treat in between.

Second, we replaced a lot of the treat rewards with "life rewards" (opening a door for him, allowing him to jump out of the car, letting him go after a rabbit, allowing him to sniff something really interesting, throwing a ball, allowing him to hop up on the couch -- whatever would make him happiest at the moment). If you figure out what your dog really wants at any given moment in time, you can often use that to reward much more effectively than you even could with a treat. And they also learn that they work for you because you hold ALL the important cards, not just the treat jar.

Finally, I'd try keeping a couple of treats hidden in your pocket (or in various locations around the house). That way you'll be prepared for the day when she'll offer the "sit" with no treats visible; you can then seize that opportunity to convince her that there is ALWAYS the chance that you might be able to materialize a treat out of thin air :wink: . When it happens, I'd personally shower her with treats (give her a huge jackpot), so she thinks that "no visible treats is actually much BETTER than just one lousy treat visible!".

I'll bet you that day is just around the corner for you. 8)
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