Those who train with me will often hear me talk about Ray. I use him as an example of how we need to find the right rewards in our dog training, and how it's the dog who decides what's rewarding, not us. I found his picture on my phone from way back and thought I'd share how Ray's story continues to help owners train their dogs joyfully.
Greyhounds are often generalised as having poor recall. We were working on creating a great recall for Ray. We were rewarding him with chicken when he came back to us. Ray would amble over and take the chicken, he'd sometimes stop on the way and have a sniff. Ray liked chicken, but he didn't LOVE chicken. As we trained we discovered that Ray enjoyed a good game of tuggy, however, he flipped his greyhound lid at the chance to chase a frisbee. You see, chasing a fast moving object is hardwired into greyhounds, it's what they were bred to do and it delighted Ray to use all of his natural instincts.
So, we headed off to Brockwell Park in Brixton, armed with pockets full of chicken, we had tuggy toys up our sleeves, and frisbees hidden up our jumpers. We started doing some recalling with Ray and rewarding him with the usual chicken. We then surprised him with the odd game of tuggy when he came back to us. Already his recall started to come a bit faster. Imagine his elation when a frisbee appeared from nowhere and was thrown in return for another recall. By mixing up these different rewards we became unpredictable and exciting to Ray. He became a gambler, addicted to the game of recall, wondering what delights would appear in return for rushing back to us when called.
My challenge to you is to think creatively with your dogs. Can you think of one new reward that might tap into your dogs natural instincts? Or can you come up with a novel food treat that may beat everything else hands down? Are you really rewarding your dog for coming back to you? Because a pat on the head and 'good boy' isn't really up there on your dog's lists of priorities.