I talk quite a bit about reward placement and delivery (thrown, rewarding directly to the dog, or on the floor in front of the dog, etc.); but I have not thought about clarifying the aspect of the timing of the reward.
Here is a good example:
The other day I was with a client and noticed that her dog rushed through the door. Since she is worried about dog-on-dog encounters in the hallway, I mentioned that it might be helpful to teach the dog to wait as she opens the door. This would give both of them some space to see if the path is clear to proceed.
Her response was, “Oh, I always ask him to sit before going out and give him a treat when he sits”. But she opens the door after she feeds the reward and the dog rushes out the door.
What You Are Reinforcing
In the example above, the woman is reinforcing the “sit” – which the dog already knows.
The sit position is not what needs to be taught! What should be taught is the ability to remain in that position while the door is being opened.
The timing of the reward is off! The dog was rewarded before the task being taught even happened.
In terms of reward timing: the first question to ask yourself is, “What do I want to teach?”
This might seem painfully obvious, but it may be a bit more complex after all. We often get stuck repeating the same training process without getting the result we would like. Next time this happens to you, think about the timing in your reward system!
Coming soon: Be flexible! If it ain’t working…STOP!