FE520 Value of Rewards

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    Alana McGee
    We live in bear/cat country and I’ve been thinking that it might be nice to not carry around stinky rewards in the woods. I also know that Cricket values her Frisbees/Balls FAR above treats as a reward. So I tried using a Frisbee as a reward at the end of a discovery sequence ? she went nuts ? loved it, but I couldn?t get her back for another search. She was too focused on the Frisbee (I tuck it into the back of my shirt so it is out of sight). She?ll do many other behaviours for the Frisbee, but couldn?t seem to truffle hunt.The second experience was when I got a trial package of freeze dried food. I cut it into small pieces to use as a reward (again, I was thinking it is less smelly). But after the first successful search all she could do was stare at my pocket in hopes of making the treat appear, she even laid down on top of the container with the scent in it, she had no clue the scent was there ? she was just showing me the things should could do to get the treat.

    Question ? is there such a thing as a too good of a reward? Do you think it would be possible to eventually get her to work for the Frisbee/ball without losing focus, and how? She also loves tug, but I haven?t tried that.

    Alana McGee

    Hi Shannon.

    Toys are great, especially if Cricket LOVES them. They can be great tools. As for ?Too good? of a reward, the answer is not really, but with EXTREMELY high value high ticket items like the frisbee you just would want to approach it differently.

    Toys can be AWESOME reward systems, but also keep in mind playing frisbee in the field may not be practical. Due to environmental factors it can be dangerous to toss it. The tosses have to be short and right to her basically, because these truffle hunting environments can have lots of obstacles, and using a toy in the forest requires you to be very aware of your surroundings. If she is anything like Callie, the other white border collie :), she will focus only on the toy and not necessarily that sharp stick or ravine.

    There are a couple of things you can do. One we recommend is teaching a trick to Cricket such as put the frisbee away in a backpack (or similar). If done in the right progression this is a game unto itself and it is a complete chain of behaviors and once practiced sufficiently Cricket will know that ?putting away the frisbee? means the frisbee is no longer in play, and she may be able to the reorient into truffle hunting.

    Kristin has done something similar with Callie who works for her Squeeky Tennis Ball. Callie puts the ball back in Kristin?s backpack when cued to do so, thus signaling the end of ?ball play time?, and then she can refocus and engage on truffle hunting.

    This actually has dual purpose. At the end of a hunt Callie will often get to keep the ball with her on the way out of the field and this is also a great way to move Cricket (or Callie in this instance) out of the field so she stops looking for truffles on the way out. Otherwise it would be very long walk sometimes with Callie finding every truffle every 5 ft on the way out for 1/2 mile. It also saves Callie energy so she doesn?t become exhausted.

    Many dogs ?can? work for hours and hours on end. That doesn?t mean they should. For some dogs, and ?off? button can make the world of difference.

    Another thing you could do in conjunction with this is practice using the toy as a reward system in very simple circumstances. I mean like imprinting stage or just beyond. Let Cricket get used to the idea of going back and forth between hunting and playing with the frisbee. Also do try tug and see how that goes. If she likes that and can re-orient easier that might be something to try as it is less dangerous in the field likely due to environmental factors.

    But we would recommend you try the idea of something similar to the back pack and the complete behavior chain sequence around another mini game like that.

    As for the High value food reward, was this on just one occurrence or many? Again go back to very basic games with this as a reward so she realizes the AWESOME yummy thing ONLY comes when I nose target the tin in Shannon?s hand, not when I offer trick behaviors. My guess is if you set it up like this, it will only take a few successes for Cricket to realize the connection.

    Alana McGee

    Thanks Alana! I love the idea of Cricket putting away her own toy to signal the end of the game, I can see how useful that would be in day to day life too! Cricket is happy to simply “catch” the frisbee after a 6 inch “throw” – she is a nut – but you are right, I don’t think we’ll be doing any long ‘bombs’ in the woods, she can’t see anything but the disc.

    I only tried the super amazing treats once, I didn’t want to have any more searches go sideways – but I love the idea of practicing with imprinting or basic searches – that makes a lot of sense.

    Thanks for answering my question!

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