Timing your Rewards

A friend visited earlier today who has a healthy scepticism about some dog training methods. In my house there are three dogs, two of which are very comfortable with visitors and one newer addition who is nervous of men and generally panic barks when people arrive. Not surprisingly, he now sets off the other two, so I decided to institute a plan to calm them down. I’m more than happy for them to bark when the doorbell rings but I want them to be polite when people enter the house

I have put a pot of treats near the door to facilitate this. When the bell rings and they rush to the door, I thank them, ask them to be quiet and send them into the next room. When the guest enters the house, I ask him or her to stand still holding a treat and I let a dog out. When the dog sits down the visitor can give him a treat. At first the only way to do this was to wait for the dog to calm down on his own and realise that no attention was coming unless he relaxed, but it wasn’t long before they would rush in and then sit eagerly. Putting a treat near the dog’s nose means that he will stop barking because he can’t eat and bark at the same time.

My friend was convinced that what I was actually doing was rewarding the dog for barking by giving it food. On the contrary, it’s actually all about the timing. Dogs don’t have the cognitive ability to make a connection between things that happen more than a few seconds apart. The appearance of food and the request to sit is followed, after about two seconds, with the reward. As far as the dog is concerned the barking is ancient history. Once the behaviour is learned, the treat is no longer necessary, as long as the dog is rewarded, and of course he will be, by getting attention from your visitor.If you leave the reward too long then the dog will not understand why it is receiving food and may make the wrong connections. The proof that this method works is that the dogs now happily sit without a food reward, content with the attention they are receiving. Of course, if you prefer, you can use a non-food reward right from the start, like praise or a toy. It really is a personal choice. Give it a try and you’ll see that lure reward training is simply the quickest and best way to get good results!