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Old 03-20-2012, 02:29 PM
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Maxy24 Maxy24 is offline
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Default Praise functioning as NRM?

So my brother's girlfriend Heather always mentions how Tucker has no interest in praise, doesn't get excited because he made you happy, blah, blah, blah. I know perfectly well dogs don't just work to make you happy, some dogs might feed off of excitement more than others, but no dog just follows commands to make someone else happy, they do it to avoid punishment or receive reinforcement (and yes, I'm sure some dogs find petting more reinforcing than others). Then I started thinking about it and outside of command giving, Tucker loves when you get excited, it pumps him up, makes him want to play, and he certainly enjoys physical affection. But after you ask for a command and you praise him or pet him he appears to find it repulsive, he obviously wants to know where on earth his treat is. I think that perhaps I've accidentally turned praise/petting into a no reward marker.

Whenever I train or give a command I either just give him a treat or click/yes and give a treat. I really never say "oh you're such a good boy" and pet him afterwards/while giving the treat. The only time I'd do that is if I happened to have no treats or toys on me and that's all I had to fall back on. So I'm thinking he learned that praise and affection after a command means he's not getting a reward and thus finds them almost punishing. I in no way feel he should work for praise/petting, I don't expect a dog to recall off of an intriguing odor or sit still in the presence of another dog when the most he can hope for it a scratch behind the ear and me talking in a squeaky voice. However I don't think it's good that he finds absolutely no reinforcement value in those things AT ALL, thus making them 100% useless or even unpleasant. It would be good for him to find some enjoyment in them for those instances when I don't have anything better to reward him with. I know dogs choose what's reinforcing, not their owners, but I feel like he would find them reinforcing if I hadn't taught him that they mean no treats are coming.

So do you think there is any way to fix this and make him enjoy praise/affection a little more? I know people can teach dogs to enjoy tugging as a reward, so I figure maybe something similar can be used to transfer the value of food rewards onto the praise. Would I ask for a command, give verbal praise, and then give a treat? Or would I ask for the command and immediately give the treat while giving praise at the same time?

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Old 03-20-2012, 02:53 PM
SaraB SaraB is offline
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Pair praise with food rewards. Tucker will become conditioned to the praise and interpret it as a good thing instead of a marker that no rewards will come. Also, be sure to give praise during other events he enjoys such as play so that it doesn't just mean treats are coming.

ETA: Denise Fenzi recently wrote a blog post about how important it is to use praise during training. Even if it's not "sterile" clicker training and it may take longer to train this way, praise can be substituted for times you don't have any other rewards.

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Old 03-20-2012, 07:26 PM
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Are you praising/petting the same way when you're training as you do when you're just playing or hanging out? Is it possible that you have a different tone of voice, posture, or are in a different location? Dogs can be very context-specific - praise could very well have become a NRM when in the training area as opposed to, say, the living room.

Or maybe he just doesn't want to be petted when he's working, does he take training 'seriously'? Sienna does this sometimes, she finds heeling very reinforcing (don't ask me why, she's a doggy nerd LOL). Her reward for heeling is usually an OK release and she gets to run, jump and spin around. But if I try to engage her in play for too long, she'll stop and give me a look like, "Stop fooling around, lady, we're working here!" and go back to heel position.

I second Denise Fenzi's blog, she has some great insights. You can "charge" praise just like you would a clicker.

Edited to add - or maybe he knows you have treats when you're training, and he likes those better!

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Old 03-20-2012, 11:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Maxy24 View Post
However I don't think it's good that he finds absolutely no reinforcement value in those things AT ALL, thus making them 100% useless or even unpleasant. It would be good for him to find some enjoyment in them for those instances when I don't have anything better to reward him with.
YES, it is terribly important that dogs like many different things, not just treats. I'm having a problem with Keegan right now: I'm trying to teach him to be calm and relaxed in distracting situations and/or with other dogs around. I can get him to lay down and stay down if I give treats, but in that situation he does NOT like petting or praise, so what else can I use to keep him calm???

So yeah, petting in particular is good for dogs to enjoy.

Originally Posted by Maxy24 View Post
Would I ask for a command, give verbal praise, and then give a treat?
Yes, exactly. Basically you're turning praise from a No Reward Marker to a Reward Marker. "Praise is fun because you get treats afterward!" You can give treats and praise at the same time, but it won't make as big an impact; he'll probably be focusing on grabbing and chewing the treat and not even really hearing the praise.
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Old 03-21-2012, 06:12 AM
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smeagle smeagle is offline
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My youngest dog really doesn't have much pack drive, that is part of her breed too so it's also a genetic thing. When she's working she is always in food drive and if you tried to pat her she'd look at you like 'rack off, I'm not interested in that right now!' which doesn't concern me, she's in food drive at that moment, not working for prey or pack rewards. However, I have conditioned a very strong verbal reward marker ('yes') and I also encouraged her to jump on me and give me hi-10s etc when I trigger her into drive. She's not actually working for praise then though IMO - but it does build the habit of physically interacting with me.
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