Scene: A very frustrated owner, an excitable dog, a treat pouch and some biscuits
Issue: “He refuses to sit or lie down or come unless I have a cookie in my hand! He’s so stubborn”
My response: “He’s not stubborn, he’s being bribed not trained!”
When we teach our dogs a new skill, especially when using positive reinforcement training, cookies are involved 99% of the time (unless it’s a ball crazy retriever!). The difference between training and bribing is subtle and often goes unnoticed by the owner but the dog picks up on it in a flash! Let’s take the sit behavior; training a sit involves luring or shaping a dog into a sitting position with food in the luring hand and rewarding them with the food as soon as they have accomplished the sit. As training progresses the lure should be removed and the sit behavior should be paired with a verbal and/or hand signal cue WITHOUT FOOD IN THE HAND and then they are rewarded with the food. Often times owners move to this step far too early and expect their dog to “know” sit and yet when the dog does not comply with the command, they reach for a cookie and then ask again, the dog sits and gets rewarded. You have just bribed your dog and taught him that non compliance on first request gets you to get a cookie out. They will have figured this out waaaay before you will have.
To remedy this you need to go back to the beginning. Stop asking for a behavior and then getting a cookie to get compliance. Go back to luring the position with food from the start, then slowly and randomly move to the next level of asking for the behavior without food. BE PATIENT! Give your dog time to figure out the new rules, count in your head how long it takes him to comply. As soon as he complies heap on the verbal praise and give a treat jackpot. Then for the next few repetitions lure again. Try the treat-less cue one more time and count silently to see if he is faster at responding this time. Again, once he complies heap on the verbal praise and the treat jackpot. Then stop the game, allow your dog to soak up the lesson without drilling him over and over. Come back to it later or even the next day and this time use fewer lure repetitions and more treatl-ess cues. Soon your dog will be a speedy sitter in anticipation of getting that treat and you will be much less frustrated with your “stubborn dog”.
There is a saying some trainers espouse, “Train, Don’t Blame”, It means if your dog is not complying with something you are asking, it is much more likely to be a lack of proper, thorough, training from you rather than spiteful disobedience from your dog. Take a step back and evaluate, have you really worked on this behavior thoroughly? Have you ever asked him to do this behavior in this environment or around these distractions? Is the reward worth his effort? If you are still at a loss, contact a reputable positive reinforcement trainer and get help, your relationship with your dog will be much better for it!