Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Motivating a dog using cookies: It can work too well


As this video clearly demonstrates, Liam is obsessed with treats. At the mere mention of the word "cookie," he becomes focused and alert. When the cookie is in my hand, he loses all control. He cannot hold the position long enough to even earn the cookie, and resorts to popping up and begging instead. Then, the snorting begins and the whole training session is a total loss.

Having a dog that is food-obsessed like this has some specific drawbacks. It's hard to get Liam to do tricks in front of other people, for example, and it's hard to use a cookie to train a specific behavior, as he rarely holds the action long enough. In addition, an action that earns him a cookie is likely to be repeated, over and over, just in case you'll give him a cookie.

I've learned this the hard way. I recently switched cookie brands, and the new flavor seems to be a big hit with the pug. Now, he's started gaming a specific system I use with him, in the hopes of earning more cookies.

I ask Liam to ring a bell by the door when he needs to go outside. If he actually needs to go outside to do his business, he gets a cookie. Since these cookies are so tasty, Liam has become a bell-ringing fool, hitting the bells every 5 to 10 minutes in the hopes of earning a cookie.

As all trainers know, ignoring a trick is never a good idea. In fact, ignoring a trick is a great way to help a dog forget the trick altogether. So, I've been forced to pick up the bells when we come in from a potty trip outside, and then I walk back and put them down an hour or so later. It's a bit of a hassle, but it's the only solution I can think of at the moment.

Now, if I could only think of a way to get him to stick to the "down" position....