Luring & Rewarding vs. Bribing
Luring & Rewarding vs. Bribing
If you have trained with Perfect Pooch this year, you probably heard a lot about rewarding your dog for 90% of their good behaviors until they have a 90% proficiency rate. You were probably also told, more than once, to get the treat out of your command hand! Why is it so important to reward a behavior and not bribe? What’s the difference?
Essentially the pattern for training a new behavior breaks down to a few simple steps: lure the behavior, fade the lure as quickly as possible and switch to a reward, name the behavior once the dog starts to “get it,” reward all correct behaviors through the acquisition stage until the dog is proficient than fade the reward down to an acceptable level. This may sound a little complex or confusing but let’s go through this with a simple sit: use a treat (lure) to guide the puppy’s face upwards causing the rear to drop to the floor, praise and give the lure as a reward. After a few repetitions, get the lure out of your hand and use just a raised hand praising and rewarding as soon as the rear end hits the floor. Once the puppy “gets it” and is sitting down as soon as they see the hand go up, you can add the cue by saying “sit” a second before raising your hand up (new cue predicts old cue), again praising and rewarding as soon as the puppy does the requested behavior. Soon enough your puppy will figure out that the cue always signals the start of the “sit” game and will understand the verbal cue to mean put your rear on the floor. This is part of the acquisition stage and this is how your dog comes to learn that a word signals a behavior. Lures help your puppy to find the right position or behavior; rewards reinforce the behavior to ensure it is repeated in the future. (See: http://perfect-pooch.com/what-is-positive-reinforcement/)
So what is a bribe? A bribe is a treat or reward shown to the dog in order to induce a behavior past the point where a lure is needed. A bribe lets the dog know that a reward is available and more importantly signifies when a reward is not attainable- ie a dog who is bribed figures out that the only time they can earn a reward is if they see it up front. This is a big problem for generalizing (http://perfect-pooch.com/dogs-generalizing/) since your dog will quickly learn that a cue only means a specific behavior is necessary when a bribe is visible or in the location where bribes have been offered, like in your kitchen by the cookie jar, and will not perform under different conditions. This also leads to the biggest complaint in positive reinforcement training from owners: “he only sits when he sees the treat!” When in reality if you are diligent in getting the lure out of your hand quickly, ideally within about 5 repetitions, your dog will be sitting without seeing the treat during your first session and every session thereafter. A lure is a temporary way to help your dog understand the information you are giving him and reward makes that information salient or relevant to induce learning.
Once you get the concept of rewarding vs bribing down, you can teach almost any behavior without the fear of always needing a treat up front. You will also be able to vary your rewards more quickly. We use food a reward because it is naturally attractive to your dog, quick, and easy to transfer. At some point you will also mix in other rewards like toys and life rewards, but be careful that your dog learns to work for these things or they will not be effective in training. For example, a lot of people try to use praise alone as a reward. This is not very effective and is frustrating for both the owner and the dog. If you talk to your dog and praise them regularly just for being an awesome companion, they have little or no motivation to work for praise. Praise is also more drawn out and vague than an immediate reward so can be unclear and inconsistent. While it is important to praise good behavior, the praise should be linked to a quick concrete reward consistently while working on new behavior and regularly later on with a lower reward rate needed. This will also help build up the praise in the dogs mind as something to really pay attention to as it is linked to food or toys as a secondary reinforce which allows you to rely on praise more heavily in the future when you wean down treats. Building up your dog’s reward history with a high rate of reward and low rate of bribery leads to faster and more consistent behavior. Always remember to praise and reward good behavior and set your dog up for success.
Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator