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MAXIMIZING TREATMENT SUCCESS
Identify very valuable rewards for the pet that you are training; for most dogs this
will be delectable food treats. The treats should be tiny (less than 1 cmin length) and
readily consumable. Some options include soft jerky treats cut into tiny pieces, small
pieces of hot dogs, small cubes of cheese, small strips of deli meat, etc. Consideration
should be given to any medical dietary restrictions.
When an animal is trained to attend to a target, they will follow that target, allowing
the handler to easily lure them into certain positions (e.g., sit) and to redirect their
attention away from competing attractions. Using the closed fist as the target makes
great sense, since it is always with us. It also is a natural place to hold a treat. To
train a pet to a target fist, simply put the tiny tasty treat in your hand and close the
hand into a fist. Allow the pet to smell the closed fist, then release the treat. Usually
after two to three repetitions, the pet readily focuses on the closed fist in anticipation
of a tasty morsel. Then the fist can be manipulated in different directions. Where
the closed fist goes, the head follows and then the body follows. If the target fist
is brought from the pet’s nose up and back over the head in a gentle arc, the pet
will sit; if the target fist is brought up toward the forehead, the pet will make eye
contact, etc. As the pet successfully completes these tasks, it is rewarded by release
of the treat from the target fist. Once the pet has established great compliance with
following the target fist, the food rewards can be intermittent from the fist.
Many people yell commands repeatedly at their dogs in order to achieve compliance.
In all pets, but especially those with behavioral problems, yelling/loud voices can
increase arousal levels and/or aggravate anxiety. Both of these consequences are
counterproductive when you are trying to teach a pet to respond in a tranquil
manner. Before giving the command, gain the pet’s attention by saying their name,
then the command should be given in a gentle voice and there should be a pause
to allow the pet to respond. Responses are rewarded. Nonresponse or undesirable
behavior is not rewarded, if the pet has a head halter on, you may be able to gain
compliance with some gentle pressure. If this is not possible, the situation needs to
be changed so the pet can be compliant.
A pet that has anxiety or a competing undesirable response needs constant direction
when exposed to the provocative stimulus. The pet should stay engaged with
the handler via a constant dialogue. For example, the handler can say “Sophie, sit.
Watch me. Stay. Watch me. Stay. Watch me.” Success is unlikely if the pet is given
a single verbal command such as “stay” and expected to hold that command for a
prolonged period with the distraction present.
Principles of Rewarding
When you are first establishing a new behavior, valuable rewards should be given
every time for success. When the new behavior is firmly established, the rewards
can be intermittent. For pets that have particularly challenging behaviors that we
are trying to change their response, consistent fabulous rewards will need to be
maintained for significant periods before moving to an intermittent reward schedule.
Rewards should be given immediately after the task is completed. Praise should
always be part of the reward package in addition to other rewards such as food
DRS HORWITZ AND NEILSEN, CANINE AND FELINE BEHAVIOR
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