Too often, we as trainers try to use food or toys when what the dog really wants is more simple and primal – like freedom, or to stick their head in a rabbit hole, or to play with another dog.
Here is an example of what I am talking about – a simple drill I call "Sit & Sniff" that I can do with my dog, Donovan, from any distance. Donovan loves to sniff, hunt and track and otherwise explore the world around him. The "sniff" command allows him to do all of that. It's also a reward I carry with me everywhere while not stinking up my pockets with hot dogs or liver.
- The "sit" command means to put his butt on the ground and wait for my next command which when doing this drill is mostly going to be "sniffing." So why is this so revolutionary to your training?
- It gives your dog what he really wants and let's your dog know that you "get it."
- It helps increase off-leash control by improving a no-look sit command.
- It keeps the reward right in front of your dog's face which keeps him inclined to work (imagine how holding food in front of your dog's face inspires them to work versus holding nothing in your hand).
- It gives you a better tool than a recall in emergency situations. Your dog is far more likely to respond to a well-trained distance sit or down then they are a recall. A recall requires them to do a 180 and completely change focus. It also might send them back into harm's way if they had just ran across a street. With this drill they learn to sit and wait.
- Scientifically speaking (hang with me on this one), this little drill turns a command like "sit" into a secondary reinforcer. Granted, if you're not into behavioral science or dog jargon, this means little to you. But if you're reading this blog, there's a good chance you have heard of clicker training at some point. Clickers are the best example of a secondary reinforcer – meaning dogs are not born liking the sound of a click, but if you click and then give a dog a piece of steak 20 times in a row, they are going to suddenly love the sound of a click. This drill takes it to the next level by actually giving the behavior the same sensation as a clicker – meaning it's so associated with the idea of a reward, the dog is actually feels rewarded when you say sit and they comply.