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Teaching the New Command Discrimination Exercise
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We want our dogs to enjoy performing the obedience exercises and we want to have fun training them. It is a goal we share. There are obedience exercises that your dog will naturally enjoy. Some dogs naturally love to jump, others love retrieving, and some love to heel. However, few dogs find any fun in performing fronts, finishes, and pivots. 

You Can Teach Your Dog to Love the Details

When you use a conditioned reinforcer (a word or clicker) to mark a behavior, you are marking the specific moment when your dog earns the reward. There is a lot of information available about how to use a conditioned reinforcer in the digital obedience guide, Tricks that Transition to Obedience Exercises.

Videos demonstrating how to use conditioned reinforcers can be found in the “Moving Away from Reward” and “Find Heel” modules. These videos demonstrate how to mark the following behaviors:

  • Running to a Bed;
  • Finding Heel Position;
  • Moving Away from the Reward to Earn the Reward;
  • Responding to a Drop Signal; and ⦁ Performing Go-Outs.

Watch these videos in your digital obedience guide, Tricks that Transition to Obedience Exercises!

Using Conditioned Reinforcers

Many handlers believe their dogs only enjoy performing because they want a treat.

The science about conditioned reinforcers explains how a noise (a word or clicker), paired with a reward, creates a chemical release (dopamine) in the pleasure and memory centers of the brain. The dog learns that the behavior performed immediately before the marker causes a reward to appear. Soon, dogs learn to perform tasks, (e.g., running to a bed) in anticipation of hearing the marker and knowing that a reward is coming. Ultimately, the behavior itself becomes rewarding.

This is huge! Please try hard to understand this concept.

When you use a conditioned reinforcer to mark a behavior, the dog starts enjoying the activity that leads to the reward. That means he is no longer working for the treat, he is working to cause the dopamine release. He knows that performing the task causes him to “feel good,” thus the task becomes rewarding.

So, how do you get your dog to enjoy the details? Use a conditioned reinforcer. Use it on every front, finish, and pivot, and watch his enthusiasm for those details skyrocket!

Watch Nate perform in the "A Game" and "The Game Gets Harder" videos in the "Find Heel" module. He loves jumping into heel position.

A Word of Caution
  1. As you use conditioned reinforcers, pay attention to the following details:
  2. The word or noise you use must be sacred! If you say it, you must pay it every time! Too often, handlers get sloppy and start chanting their conditioned reinforcer but fail to deliver the reward to the dog.
  3. Mark the behavior the moment it occurs and then deliver the reward. If you reach in your pocket before you mark the behavior, from the dog’s point of view, the behavior that immediately preceded the marker (reaching into your pocket) caused reward. Your dog comes to believe that he gets rewarded when you reach in your pocket, and not because of the task he performed.
  4. The marker is enough. If “yes” is your conditioned reinforcer, you do not need to say, “good dog, yes,” or “yes, good dog.” One word (or noise) is all that is needed to mark the desired behavior.

Getting into heel position is performed ten times in the open ring. Just think: if your dog loved getting into heel position, wouldn’t his enthusiasm for the open performance increase? After all, he gets to perform a task he loves ten times every time he goes into the ring.

Think about it – try it and let me know how it goes.