This is a joint travelling adventure. It completely resets the learning and can easily extend the reinforcement process.
It allows us to check that the dog is engaging with us because of the subsequent action, not because we are wearing food.
It is the foundation for food-less pockets, it is the foundation for extended behaviours.
It builds a strong, and fabulous, association with travelling (shopping) together.
It increases value and animation to behaviours that have been built with an association of this pattern.
Teach the pattern
- Place the pot of treats, have a chat with the treats, make sure the dog is watching and being mildly entertained.
- Cue: “shopping?”, open and rummage in the pot, get a treat out,
- CLOSE THE POT
- Place the treat to the floor near the pot
- Step away
- Wait for the dog to re-orientate to you
- Give the “shopping?” cue invite the dog to come along to the pot
- Over repetitions increase the distance you will step away and the dog should begin to follow you to be able to re-orientate.
Be careful not to inadvertently teach the dog to stare at the pot and call in “waiter service” for you to open the pot.
This pattern can be used to teach both partners, person and dog, that carrying food is not a pre-requisite to responding to cues. If learning has evolved from luring, the presence of the food before a behaviour is cued would have become a habit.
If the future of training is to compete in dog sports, then success without the presence of rewards is often a requirement in the rules. Preparing a youngster for sports should include this understanding from as early as possible.
Not that, this instead
As the core of the exercise is a dog that learns how to come away from a reward to secure a reward. With planning we can teach that coming away from reward “A” is secured by reward “B”. Initially this would be between two Shops, or reward stations, but also a dog keen to engage or secure another reward.
The “A” reward should be managed to be at a level that disengagement is a strong possibility, or the reward “B” is well established before “A” is visual. Disengagement is a lifeskill for dogs that are inclined to become focussed on potential rewards that will not be available, but it should be taught at the “fade-in” level.
Johnny’s fallen down the well
This is the same pattern for teaching indication for search and rescue work where the dog has to learn to come away from the casualty and find the hander and give a specific “I have found ..” indication. This is taught with a toy that is later transferred to training casualties and when the dog returns with their handler the play-reward is enjoyed.
Equally it can be adapted for any “alert” or indication behaviour
Mark a target
Under the conditions where we need a dog to visually mark the location and then travel towards it, such as a sendaway, long distance retrieve and re-direction, we can use this pattern of a Shop, or reward station. By beginning with rewarding at the Shop and increasing the step away, we can ask the dog to “look” at the Shop before the travel towards it. By following the dog to the Shop we reinforce the travelling, in a straight and purposeful direction, to a location of known reward.
But not, fetch me a beer
There a downside to teaching the dog to come and find us for a potential shopping expedition. Food left unattended but unreachable by the dog can elicit this behaviour. By the time you have settled down to watch a film in one room, the dog will have scented your leftovers on your dinner plates in the kitchen, or that a favourite toy has rolled under a piece of furniture and requires it to be “shopped”.
This can be avoided if you begin the process from a specific Shop is Open drama, and have the strength to not respond to a dog on a credit card seeking mission that is out of context. I personally would not teach this in the house from one room to another, and certainly not when I have fallen asleep!
Always have a plan
away from the shop
Have a clear cue to travel
The most valuable aspect of Shopping as a delivery process is assessing the dog’s clear understanding, or concept, of reward as a consequence not as a pre-condition, or bribe. If we are in the habit of always wearing food during training the dog is often engaged and staying in our proximity because of the food resource. Ideally we would like the dog to consider us the valuable resource, in the sense we can be sent to “go shopping” for them and secure a food source.
This may not seem an important difference but unless we become food wearers around the clock we can inadvertently set up conditions that response and engagement to us is only going to occur on the condition we wear food, this then becomes a contingency. Additionally the wearing of food will lock the dog into proximity to us as the location where food is received. Delivery patterns will reduce this reward-location condition, but equally where the delivery pattern commences will be noticed by the dog.
Before Shopping can be used we must first establish that the dog is aware of controlling our behaviour through cue seeking. This process is a key part of training to ensure we have the optimum conditions and the dog is an active state of learning.
By feeding the dog away from us we see them actively return to seek more opportunity for repeating the rewarding events.
Begin at the Shop
Establish where the food shop will be in the environment. This can be a table or high surface where the reserve food will be waiting, it should be secure from self-service by the dog. Using a container that has an obvious opening pattern, undoing the clips, opening the box can all contribute to building the anticipation.
Your skill of building eager anticipation of “going shopping” will be key to draw the dog into the drama. The process is about a lengthening anticipation which is the equivalent of lengthening the reward.
Anticipation of a known reward is pleasure. We must begin with building the experience of going shopping so that the reward from the anticipation can be extended.
Desire: (wanting) actively directs a behaviour to a known reward
Pleasure: (liking) passive experience that derives from received, or anticipated reward
Begin at the shop, add drama to the opening of the box and selection of the very best reward you can find. It does not have to be hurried, there is no “three second rule”. Your skill is in maintaining the dog’s anticipation through your own, infectious, build of excitement.
Remember this order. At the Shop:
Discover the box, make a drama about opening it.
Take time to select the very best reward
Close and secure the box
Place the treat on the floor
Take one step away from the Shop.
This order is critical as you will need to move away from the Shop before the dog has consumed the food and desires more, cue seeking. If you place this treat to the floor and then mess around closing the box, that treat will have been consumed as you are standing at the box. If you find you cannot take a step or two away, then either scatter a few treats to keep the dog engaged for longer or use a snuffle mat to hide the treats.
The dog will become cue seeking and re-engage with you, seeking where you are. At the same time, they disengage with the food box, the Shop. In teaching this process we not only reinforce the re-engagement behaviour but the dog is also learning a vital lifeskill: of disengaging from a source of reward.
Increasing the distance and difficulty of stepping away should be graduated that is calculated on the ease of success of the previous cue seeking behaviour. Most dogs as they find their floor treats will see you step away in their peripheral vision and follow you promptly.
Do not offer Waiter service
There will be a part of the gradual increase that requires the dog to physically move away from the Shop and come to us. There may be some experimenting with “Hey, waiter!” where the dog stays at the Shop, and gives you a flick of eye attention, a virtual snap of fingers, and expects you to return to them to open that darned box again.
At this moment you should become a studiously busy Waiter, looking anywhere else BUT at the dog. You will have to play stupid and have no idea what it is that they want. In their exasperation they should leave the box and travel to you, as soon as they arrive, you awaken from your stupor and are galvanised into action to go to the Shop and begin the drama all over again.
Standing and passively facing the dog whilst we wait for this moment tends to increase the likelihood of “hey, Waiter!”, but neither can you stand with your back and be completely dismissive of what the dog is doing. Find an open body language, half turn away, perhaps study your nails, implying that you are open to interruption on the single condition that the dog travels away from the Shop towards you.
Once this travelling is understood we can increase it gradually and it will become stronger. When the speed of travelling to the Shop is as fast as coming away from the Shop, then you can consider inserting known behaviours once the dog has arrived and become cue seeking.
Adding different Shops
When the dog learns this process you are likely to see them race ahead of you to the Shop. If this is a potential risk, where you may be travelling to your car for instance, plan ahead and design at least three Shops in the environment. The Shop of Choice is yours, and following the cue to “go shopping?” the dog should orientate to you and travel alongside.
But if you are using this process to move a dog away from a potential risk, then going ahead of you to the fridge, as visitors arrive for instance, then the anticipation of the location is recommended. When you then follow the dog to the Shop, going ahead of your will be reinforced.
This should be introduced once the behaviour of leaving the Shop to collect you, and your credit cards, is becoming established. It should be a distinct cue, such as a clap of hands with the cue “Shopping?” given before you race away to the Shop.
If this is a new delivery pattern for the dog, and your mark is immediately followed by leaving the dog it has the potential to confuse and de-value the relevance and power of the marker.
Travelling to the shop should be a companionable and pleasurable process, neither a race nor abandonment.
This process can also be used for toy collection and play which is particularly useful if the toy is too bulky to be discrete in our pocket.
The greatest value in the process besides teaching the dog the pleasure of collecting us to secure their food and the concept of coming away from a reward to acquire a reward, is in learning that you do not need to carry food to elicit behaviours.
If you have been food training for some time you will get a sense of confidence from having the food on your person, or very nearby. When going through this process there may be some uncertainty whether the dog is able to respond to known cues when the food is not present. This teaches us the real power behind operant conditioning, in that it is the consequence that drives the behaviour. To go shopping is a very large and extensive consequence.
It also teaches us that anticipation is an integral part of reward that can be completely missed when we try to reward in a hurry. Novice trainers will be able to see that where the dog receives the reward (at the Shop or food station) that this not the behaviour that is repeated it is the behaviour of coming to their Person that is repeated. We see the reward being separated from the behaviour that earns it. Too often a dog is taught a recall, come to person, when the person is the food station. This demonstrates otherwise.
If the dog is familiar with Chaser or Catch these can also be used and replace the location of the food on the floor or snuffle mat.
You can mix patterns, even when wearing food it does not need to signify that you will use that food to reward, you can still travel to the station and then use different patterns at the stations.
Having a variety of different patterns available to us enables a richness of rewards we can offer the dog.