Should you reward your dog everytime forever?
The 30 secs summary
Absolutely not! However, for the first year of training, you want to make sure your pup is always excited about what they might get if they listen.
In the first 6 weeks of training, you should pretty much reward your pup everytime they listen.
The more you praise her, the faster they'll learn.
But my dog is older, she was trained already?
No worries, then this 6 weeks window should apply to every new trick or command. Rewarding at first with the highest value treats and then toning it down as the command is executed perfectly every time.
Once a trick is mastered
After those 6 weeks, or once you are confident your companion fully understood the command, you should start intermittent reinforcement (I.R.)
With I.R., you don't stop the rewards, but you offer them randomly.
It's important to avoid patterns. Let's say you reward her most of the time she "comes".
Well make sure she doesn't get food only when she comes in the yard and never gets it at the park.
Keep the rewards unpredictable for skills that are fully understood. Make her guessing and listening!
Ohhh and finally! It's not because a skill is understood at home that it is understood at the park or on walks.
What should you treat for?
At first, even tiny reasons are good to reward your pup. Even if she makes the slighest move in the right direction, reward her. This way, she knows she's on the right track.
Rewarding her 10-15times per day should be normal at first.
A (long but funny) story to paint my point
(it might not even be funny but I had fun writing it)
Imagine this is my boss, Michael here
Dogs are better at maths and socializing
By walking next to my desk, Michael asks me to bring him a coffee in his office.
In my head: "I'm not your b*tch"
Still in my head: "but at the same time he's my boss"
"Okay I'll bring him a coffee this time, but ONLY this time"
But the coffee he drinks is super complex.
It's hard to remember... It's an "iced, Ristretto, 10 shot, venti, with breve, 5 pump vanilla, one drop of caramel, 4 Splenda, [and] poured, not shaken"
In my head: " 4 splendas?! This guy's won't be my boss for long...".
But I go ahead and bring him a coffee.
I drop the coffee on his desk and turn to leave,
BUT he stops me and offers me a $100 bill.
Me (in my head): "Woah, I didn't expect this.
Next time he asks, I'll bring him one again. I mean $100 is no pocket change"
The next day, Michael comes in and asks me again for a coffee.
"alright, I'll be right back." But I still need Michael to remind me what the coffee was. However, I remembered it was poured, not shaken.
Once again, he offers me a $100 bill.
"Either this guy REALLY loves coffee, or he's into me..."
For the next week, every day Michael asked me for a coffee and every day he offered me a $100 bill.
At this point, every time Michael comes in the office, I'm looking his way. "If he asks, I'll be ready"
Even better, now I remember what the coffee is and the fastest way to get there.
This is getting easier and easier.
Next week, he keeps asking me. However, this week, he gives me:
Day 1: $100
Day 2: $70
Day 3: $30
Day 4: $50
Day 5: $115
So he didn't offer me 100 bucks every time, but he did reward me every time I grabbed him a coffee.
So I keep doing so.
And for the next 4 weeks, Michael gives me anything between $5.69 (the cost of the coffee) and $100 every time.
So far, I've pocketed over $2300. So let's just say that I have Michael in my heart and I'd do a lot to please him.
But the next month, I brought coffee to Michael every day but he didn't pay me every time.
He didn't pay me for 2 days in a row but then gave me a $100 bill on Wednesday. And as the month went by, sometimes he paid me, sometimes he didn't.
So I tried to crack the code, what makes him pay me sometimes and sometimes not?
But it was impossible to predict when he wouldn't pay me. Plus, he gave me more than enough when he paid. Enough so I would keep bringing him his coffee everytime he asked.
Now, let's switch roles.
You are Michael, your dog is me, the coffee is the command/trick and the $100 bill is the treat (a tiny piece of real meat).
It start to makes sense huh?
For the first week, when I was learning how to get the coffee right, I received the highest reward ($100) every time I got it right, no exceptions.
Your dog should receive tiny pieces of meat every time he gets the trick right. That's while he's still learning the command.
During the first 6 weeks, until I mastered what the coffee was, I was rewarded every time but the reward varied.
Your dog should get some sort of reward (food or playtime) every time he gets it right during these first 6 weeks (or until he masters the trick in different places).
Michael gave me different amounts but always over the cost of the coffee.
Make sure your dog values the treat more than the boredom of obeying. Make sure the treats are somehow special to your companion.
At this point, I was always on the lookout for what Michael might ask me. I wanted to please him.
After this period, your dog will pay attention to you at all times to be sure to please you (and be rewarded) when you ask something.
For the rest of Michael's life, I always paid attention to what he would ask. I wasn't rewarded all the time, but sometimes I was and that was enough for me to keep listening.
This was Michael before his death: