Reward placement is a key part of dog training, yet it is often overlooked. The placement of your dog’s reward during and after a behavior makes a difference as to the dog’s understanding of the behavior you are trying to teach.
If you are rewarding a stationary exercise, like a stay in the sit position, to help your dog understand the exercise you are training, your reward should be delivered while your dog is still sitting and staying. That means that you do not call your dog to you to reward him, or pull him out of position to give him a treat or play with a toy. Instead, you go to your dog and give the reward to your dog in the sit stay position. Conversely, if you would like your dog to work far away from you, then your reward is best delivered at a distance.
These concepts are simple an explanation but sometimes challenging to enact. Rewarding your dog for stationary behavior is often easier when using food. A treat can be easily delivered close to the handler. Plus, you have more control when hand-delivering a treat. However, treat delivery becomes more problematic when done at a distance. In order to train with treats and reward at a distance, most trainers must employ some other kind of food delivery system. Whether it is putting food on a target (which can be a small plate or disc), using a Treat and Train Remote Reward Dog Trainer* or other remote reward device, or using toys that are designed to hold treats that the dog can access on his or her own, like Lotus Ball Treat Dispensing Pull-Apart Toys* or Treat Hugger Treat Dispensing Fleece Toys*, rewarding away from the handler may take time and effort to get right. Plus, you may need to work on your throwing skills!
If you are using toys to train your dog, rewarding at a distance gets a lot easier. The thrown ball or tossed disc can you show your dog what you want at a distance. The difficulty, then, is in using toys to reward for stationary behaviors. The easiest way to do that is by tugging, however, you are very likely to pull your dog out of position while tugging. Using a ball or another thrown toy to reward stationary behavior is particularly tricky.
One way to help you with the accuracy of any reward delivery is to use a reward marker, like a click from a clicker or a simple word like “yes” which indicates to your dog that a reward is coming shortly. This tool can help you mark the stationary behavior before you pull your dog out of position with your toy reward. It may not be quite as easy for you to convey formation to your dog this way, but when using toys to reward stationary behaviors, marking the moment of stillness is very helpful.
In an ideal world, a trainer would use food rewards for most stationary behaviors and toy of rewards for most distance behaviors. However, many dogs strongly prefer one type of reward over the other, which may require you to get creative. Unfortunately, you cannot dictate to your dog what is considered “rewarding” and each dog will have his or her own preferences.
Reward placement requires a significant amount of thought in the training process, especially when training complex behaviors. When mastered, the skill of knowing where and how to reward will significantly increase a trainer’s effectiveness.
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