I've been thinking on this lately and wanted to share with our reading families just how much training you can do without actually doing anything special or out of the ordinary and . . . without treats.
I heard from one of our families this week about how they felt their Golden had grown a bit spoiled. He's two and they wanted to brush up on his skills to get his Canine Good Citizenship. But, he isn't overly food motivated, so it was proving challenging for them to train with him. How do you train when you can't use the traditional treat method? What else is there?
Real Life Rewards.
Real Life Rewards (RLR) is a phrase made popular by Suzanne Clothier, a well respected trainer whose work is world renowned. (Incidentally, my bucket list includes meeting her and her Hawks Hunt German Shepherds! :) Some of you have already been using RLR with your training at home because a) you've made enough mistakes that, like Thomas Edison, you've found that many ways not to train or b) you're just smart. :)
Real life rewards are...real life rewards. These are things your dog values but cannot do for themselves. Everyone jokingly refers to my home as the "Gated Community", which I guess it is true enough! I have gates for babies and puppies all over the place (I'm told normal people have doors).
For any of our Gold Select™ pups to gain access to the living room, the basement, the stairway, the upstairs (which is hallowed ground for any Golden here)...they have to...you guessed it. Earn privileged entry through my GATES. Every gate is an opportunity to practice RLR training. Each of the pups is intrinsically motivated (motivated from within) to get somewhere in my home because it's not something they can do for themselves (and of course, the grass is always greener on the other side!). I have to do it for them. They need me.
You want to go potty?
You want to go to the basement with me?
You want to go outside?
You want breakfast?
You want this toy?
One of the keys to success in this is consistency. For example: for Evie to earn her RLR (for this example, it's access to my living room and the kids), when I give her the command to "Down" once without a physical cue (hand signal to down), she has three seconds to give me a solid, snappy looking down. If she half-heartedly slides into a lazy looking down, I'll quietly tell her it was a nice job, but no living room. We'll come back to that "gate" again maybe 2-3 minutes later.
The other key to success is understanding the ability level of your dog. I know what Evie's abilities and limitations are. Right now, she's working to anticipate what my command will be. The faster I do this, Mom, the sooner I get to go past the gate, right? Wrong. The faster you listen to what I'm saying and do it well, you get to go past the gate! Evie knows her commands, but like any smart doggo, wants to out-think me. :) If down worked for this gate, it should work for that gate. Nope! Good guess, but no reward.
Switch up your commands and make sure your dog isn't simply out-guessing you. This form of training really asks our Goldens to THINK. The next time Evie wants to get through the gate to the living room, I might ask her to sit and wait while I walk through the open gate and around the corner..."Come, Evie!" Oh what a beautiful thing - she's proud of herself, she's enjoying the reward for her work, and I'm a happy trainer. :)
Pictured below: Heidi (former Gold Select™ Young Adult, Spring 2018) enjoying some quality kid and living room time. :)
Remember when I said this phrase was made popular by Suzanne Clothier? She put out an eBook in December of 2016 called Attentive Cooperation, which I highly recommend. Actually, I recommend just about anything of Clothier's that you can take the time to read. Many of you may already be using RLR without realizing it - but to recognize it and use it intentionally, it is a powerful tool.
Here's an article about treats and rewards to add to your reading too: All Interesting and Stuff. I love how descriptive and creative Suzanne is. When I'm feeling out of ideas, I'll remind myself to think outside the box and tune into the Golden I'm working with. What does she find interesting? Our dogs aren't robots and neither are they BORING! The relationship we have with them is a two way street, so if we're struggling to understand what they're saying to us...maybe we need to get back to the basics of just connecting. :)
If you're interested in learning more about adopting a Gold Select™ Puppy or Young Adult, head on over to our Gold Select page. The focus in our training is the relationship - teaching our Goldens the merits of RLR, the joy in connecting with us, and giving them to the tools and skills to live in a way that is a service to others.
Thanks for reading!