Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jackpot - Part 1

Part 1 is an edited repost from 2009 and Part 2 will attempt to really show you how to train jackpots.

Unlike agility, competing in obedience requires the dog to work for several minutes before receiving a food reward (an agility course lasts less than 60 seconds). The handler is allowed to praise the dog between obedience exercises, but you cannot reward with food until you leave the ring.

Some trainers do not like to train with food for this reason and make an attempt to wean their dogs off of treats or they never use food at all. Working for praise would certainly make training and showing in obedience easier. It works for some dogs, but in my experience (limited to only training greyhounds), I do not think it “usually” translates into a dog that works with the utmost joy and willingness.  That might be my own shortcoming, but I love training with food. 
My approach has been to gradually ask my greyhounds for more work between food rewards and I introduce the jackpot. Reinforcement from my pocket is usually just a bite of Red Barn, but later when I ask for 1 minute of heeling or a course of 20 agility obstacles, I might provide 10 small bites of hamburger or dollop of creme cheese. For all 5 Utility Dog exercises at a busy dog show venue, I might provide ¼ can of canned dog food, peanut butter to lick off along the rim, and chunks of roasted turkey. My goal is for my dog to not feel cheated or unappreciated. I want my dog to be excited about the potential jackpot as she works through each exercise.

I love that when I show my greyhounds in obedience that they tend to work really fast. I have seen a lot of dogs that lag, walk, or trot very slowly through the exercises. That can be stress related, but I think it may also be that the dog is not trained to look forward to a reward. The slow dog knows he is probably not getting anything anyway, so he is not motivated to work faster.

I think that food creativity is also important. If I continue to use the same food, it starts to lose its value. Surprising my canine partner with something new and unusual, keeps her coming back for more.

Photos: Katie weaving (top). Katie retrieving a glove in the directed retrieve exercise in Utility (bottom).