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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Any tips to make your dog more excited and motivated in training sessions? She's sometimes really perky and excited, but other times she's kind of slow, it takes her a while to switch between tricks or she just looks generally less interested. I realise that there are just going to be times where she's not in the mood, but I want to increase her excitement and help her have more fun. I use high value treats, and often throw in a little session of tug for a reward here and there, too. Any other ideas?
 

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This is a pretty complex question! The answer is theoretical and not linear since every dog is different. But here are some loose ideas...

- Quality over quantity for 'boring' skills. Every dog has skills they really enjoy doing and skills they kind of balk at. If my dog hates sitting, I may only do one or two during an entire training session rather than drill it.

- Layer boring skills with fun skills. Understanding of reinforcement as a psychology term helps here because what you are actually doing is Premacking or using the second skill to reinforce the first. Behavior chain, whatever you want to call it.... But pretty much always do boring > fun. Do not do fun > boring. For example if my dog hates sitting but loves performing spin. I may ask for one sit, mark and reward with a treat, then ask for a spin. I will not ask for a spin then ask for a sit. Because I may inadvertently be punishing the spin with a sit and ruin the speed or enthusiasm of the spin.

- Reinforcement can be a series of events rather than a single delivery. The classic sequence for training is something like "Sit > dog sits > marker "good!" > reward with treat or tug. But you can layer in varied rewards (good job already throwing play into a training routine!) and also stack them.

- End on a high note. I always leave my dogs wanting more at the end of a training session. Don't train until your dog is bored with a particular skill or walking away. A super fun and engaged dog over a 2 minute session is better than a 10 minute session where the dog starts off awesome then is very distracted by the end.

There are many more things to consider. Like if a dog is very food motivated I can keep on using the same food but make it more exciting by changing my food delivery (some call it food play). If a dog is very toy motivated I may be able to chain behaviors and end with a big tug session, or use food for calm/low arousal behaviors instead. If a dog is at the maintenance level of a skill I might work on some acquisition/fluency level behaviors then reward with the 'easy' maintenance skill to make the dog feel like they are winning. If the dog is sensitive to touch then I might reward with touch in different ways - what happens when I grab the dog's snoot playfully? what happens if I do long smooth strokes on her back? So you can see that the possibilities are endless and the topic of motivation/reinforcement is extremely complex! Regardless what works for you and your pup, I hope you have fun training!
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
- Layer boring skills with fun skills. Understanding of reinforcement as a psychology term helps here because what you are actually doing is Premacking or using the second skill to reinforce the first. Behavior chain, whatever you want to call it.... But pretty much always do boring > fun. Do not do fun > boring. For example if my dog hates sitting but loves performing spin. I may ask for one sit, mark and reward with a treat, then ask for a spin. I will not ask for a spin then ask for a sit. Because I may inadvertently be punishing the spin with a sit and ruin the speed or enthusiasm of the spin.
Your whole reply was very helpful, thanks! This point especially was interesting to me- about punishing a fun trick by doing a boring one. I had actually never thought of that- I will definitely remember that. Thanks!

@storyist Thanks for the link- I haven't listened yet but figured I might as well include a thanks in advance, I'm sure it'll be helpful!
 

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Nothing you do in training should be boring. I will say it again: Nothing you do in training should be boring.

Even the long down.. which can be quite long.

I don't train regularly every day. I train a little here and there throughout the day little stuff like impulse control games etc. just to make our lives here easier. Some weeks I train only once for the whole week. Other times I train 3 X a week. If it is not the middle of the darn winter we track pretty often. Sometimes we do an article search and different things.

When I get out the ball and the collars my dog starts to bounce off the wall. Literally he does. He doesn't care if it is heeling, turns, jumping.. he is just plain in a "can't wait to do" mood. That is what I want!

In training less is often more and drills are deadly.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Nothing you do in training should be boring. I will say it again: Nothing you do in training should be boring.

Even the long down.. which can be quite long.

I don't train regularly every day. I train a little here and there throughout the day little stuff like impulse control games etc. just to make our lives here easier. Some weeks I train only once for the whole week. Other times I train 3 X a week. If it is not the middle of the darn winter we track pretty often. Sometimes we do an article search and different things.

When I get out the ball and the collars my dog starts to bounce off the wall. Literally he does. He doesn't care if it is heeling, turns, jumping.. he is just plain in a "can't wait to do" mood. That is what I want!

In training less is often more and drills are deadly.
So, how do you make something like a down-stay be not boring? Isn't it boring by nature?
 

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Pay for enthusiasm.

In other words, be ACUTELY aware of your dog's response / energy level to each particular behaviour or cue given, and try to reinforce only the most energetic responses. Avoid reinforcing the slow or lackluster responses, or at least use an obviously lower value reinforcer for these. Reserve the highest value for the most enthusiastic.

This is not a be all - end all solution in itself, but it should be part of your comprehensive plan.

Also, it will probably help to compile a list of treats / toys and their respective values, and rank them according to the DOG'S preferences. Do not allow your personal or human preferences to colour that list.
 

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What Pet Peeve said.
Pay for intensity and enthusiasm.

I don't start with a 15 minute long down. I start with a 15 second down. This is not an exercise using drive. It is an exercise that rewards precision and focus. It is a low drive exercise. Use a lower drive very desirable reward. In this particular dog it is high value food.

Use a bridge. Good is my word bridge. A SMILE is my non verbal bridge. Both mean "you got it right.. keep it up.. reward is coming." A bridge is VERY important in all training. A well built bridge can give you an uptick in drive and intensity.

So I build the "boring" behavior with a high value reward and a bridge... Gradually making it longer and gradually increasing distance and eventually going out of sight. Seconds become a minute. One minute becomes more.

I will add that aversives in a long down must be used with great care. Too much and the long down can become "hot" and the dog won't stick.. be it e collar, prong collar or anything else. Some back tie the dog.. if the dog breaks the back tie will correct the dog. Problem is a long down w/o a back tie.

I have, in a dog that is well seasoned in the long down, added a very low stim for restlessness. If your collar goes to 100 this is at 2. This was on a specific dog.

Best to not need that. Best to make that long down rewarding and when you return to the dog SMILE. Use the bridge to keep him down as you approach. Do not release until you are back in heel position. Vary the release and the reward delivery.. keep it interesting w/o making drive.
 

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Also what Pet Peeve said...
...never reward flat behavior.

Perfect practice make practice perfect.
 
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