Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Phasing Out the Treats

All of my dogs are pretty treat-motivated, which makes training super duper easy for me.  With Maggie & Sadie, weening them off being treated for every sit was pretty easy; it just happened.  With Mr. Hurley, it has proven to be more difficult.  9 times out of 10, if I don't have a treat in my hand, he doesn't sit (or lay down or shake, etc).  He just looks at me.  He usually barks at me - "Hey, Mom, go get a treat and then we can do business!"

I was getting frustrated.  He's had sit and down for months, yet I can rarely get him to obey unless there's a treat in my hand, if he will sit at all.  When we are doing training "sessions", I don't treat for a sit as the focus now is on other commands - like stay, leave it or high five.  He gets an occasional treat for sit in these sessions but only when his butt hits the ground in a nano-second and there is no shifting, backing up or barking at me going on.  However, I need him to just sit sometimes - like at curbs or when a customer is checking out at the store.  These are the situations where if there's no treat, I get no sit.

I had an A-Ha moment last week and remembered the clicker.  I've been terrible about incorporating the clicker into training; the fault lies with my inconsistency - the Hurley-man did take to the clicker splendidly when I introduced it a couple months ago.  My goal is to create alternative rewards to food - clicker and praise being those alternative rewards. 

We did one training session with the clicker last Friday and while I still treated after each click, I noticed a couple things.  We were working on a new command (touch) and he got it super duper fast.  The clicker marked the exact behavior and within one training session, I was able to move from touching my hand with his mouth open to just touching with his nose.  Second, he is rough with taking treats and the clicker helped put space between when he knows he did the right thing and my hand getting mauled - the end result being that I interjected "easy" between the click and treat and he really seemed to make some serious advancement in not trying to bite off my fingers. 

As we move forward with clicker training, my intent is to click at each individual behavior but reward with a treat randomly.  For instance, when I ask him to sit behind the counter at the store he get a click for sit.  Then I ask him to stay and he gets a click and treat for staying for a minute.  Sometimes he'll get the treat at the sit and sometimes at the stay.  But he'll always get the click.  I need to work with the clicker consistently for the next week (and treat with each click) before I start the randomizing of the treats. 

I see a Hurley showing off clicker training video in our future! 


  1. The click should always* proceed a treat of some kind. If you aren't going to give a treat (reward) after a click, then don't click. You'll find Hurley will catch on really quickly that the click doesn't always mean a reward and may decide to ignore a cue altogether.

    You can always use the Premack principle to your advantage, however, after a click. I definitely believe in varying the rewards, so you're right on with that, but you always give a reward of some kind after a click. For Premack, reward with something he wants -- to say hi to the customer, to run around like crazy with you (this is one of Elli's favorite rewards), etc.

    This video has a few great ideas for rewards, in tune with Premack: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uO1cjCepRQ&feature=feedlik

  2. I was just thinking the other day how lazy I am with the clicker. Skye loves to work for a click, even when she isn't all that motivated by the food. But I slack off a lot, and realize a few weeks later that I haven't been training with it, and it definitely shows in her "listening skills."

    Also, Ximena is correct. The click is always meant to be followed by a treat, unless you have an equally appealing reward. Most dogs don't think of praise as being all that rewarding, which can put you in a pickle. With Skye, I also use the marker word "yes" and find that this bridges the gap pretty well. If she sits, she gets a yes and praise, then the click and treat for staying. Essentially she's learned that "yes" means you're on the right track, and good things are coming soon.

  3. Hmmm...maybe my plan isn't so great. :( I'm continuing with the clicker, since it's such a great tool for marking behaviors, even if it's not good for phasing out treats.

    Thanks, Ximena, for the link. I'll check it out. Unfortunately, I haven't found much besides treats that Hurley considers a reward. Getting to greet a person at the shop results in him circling around them and back to me, looking for his treat. Giving him his favorite toy? He drops it and looks for the treat. I am using "Good Boy" as I click and treat and he is warming up to love from me as a reward in itself so I'll continue with that and hopefully it can become my "yes".

  4. I've found the clicker is definitely a huge motivator--but I do always follow it with a treat! It is tricky to figure out ways to phase out the treats. Will it help to make the praise really, really happy silly party-time praise?

  5. hi there, i found your blog through Brown Dog's blog award post, and i'm really enjoying it!

    we just got a clicker, and i haven't charged it up yet or begun to use it in any way. i am really hoping that it will help us with our over-excitement issues when we see other dogs on the street. desmond just goes bonkers and cannot be refocused with any command or with any treat. i'm wondering if it will help us get him to understand that unless he's calm, we're not going to let him greet the other dog.

    i'm very curious to see how other folks use clickers.

  6. @Life With Desmond
    Thanks for stopping by!

    Good luck on your clicker training. While I'm not using the clicker as an alternative to a treat, it is successful in putting a pause between marking the behavior and treating it - I'm using that time to charge up other rewards, like affection, and work on taking treats gently. So far so good.

    Good luck with your clicker training!