10 min read
Introducing Rewards Aloud
Most dog sports have evolved from either competitions for purposely bred skills in dogs (such as sheepdog trials, shooting, hunting) or from military activities in the post-war 1950s. The original rules were based on the views of that time, that in a competition a dog should perform the tests without incentives, aids or motivation.
Today the majority of sports are designed for non-working dogs to be enjoyed as hobbies. Current understanding is primarily built on training with reinforcement principles and rewards are included, even for working dogs, especially for tasks that do not involve innate behaviours.
Top level experienced handlers are using reinforcement principles to produce highly motivated, competent and skilled dogs. The dogs become reliant on the rewards as feedback delivered on a regular and frequent basis relevant to the dog’s skills, experience and history. Closing the gap between training and competition conditions is complex and difficult to bridge and it is often costly for the relationship between dog and person, particularly for inexperienced trainers. Judges will regularly see reward withdrawal diminishing the dogs’ engagement and pleasure in participating in the activities.
The competition conditions alienate many potential participants due to this outdated expectation and the results is can produce.
To build a strong and inclusive sport for the future we need to remove the bias that a dog working without rewards is in some way superior, more capable, competent or more desirable. Sports should ensure it is enjoyed by both dogs and people. The absence of rewards in competition conditions results in stress and confusion displayed by the dogs, which in turn is depressing for the person to see this response in their dog. The sport has lost participants because they cannot, or do not want to, bridge the training-to-competition gap.
Currently it is the norm to expect approximately 50% of any class to withdraw from competing to go in the ring with the intention of training. This may be to establish a particular behaviour in competition environment but more often to build confidence, recover from a loss of confidence, or for dogs that are trapped in a higher class than their capabilities.
What are we missing?
Training towards a reduction of dependence on rewards and reinforcement is a graduated process, that should not end in a cessation of rewards. Rewards are an integral part of our relationship with our dogs and build valued responses in everyday life as well as in activities. Participating in regular events where rewards are encouraged and applied on a graduated scale should contribute to dogs that are prepared for competition with care and empathy and reduce the frequent collapse of motivation and stress we see in dogs, and people.
To provide a true hobby-sport that is accessible and inclusive it should be designed to showcase training that can be achieved in a normal pet dog’s environment where specialist resources are not required. Awards should be graded that represent skilful and creative adaptation of behaviours that allow that all dogs to express their personality and capabilities. Routines and performances at all levels should be a pleasure to watch through the mutual enjoyment achieved from the activity.
We have a great sport, it should represent partnership and pleasure for both participants. It is a unique activity that integrates thoughtful training, partnership and music without promoting tricks and circus entertainment at a cost to the dog.
But there is a grey cloud of quite miserable dogs and extremely over stressed people that not only reduces the pleasure but can make judging quite a trying process. The view that using treats or rewards is weakness, or indication of a lesser skilled trainer needs to be changed. I personally would rather see pleasure, confidence and enjoyment within safe and considerate parameters that showcases all breeds, all capabilities for enjoyment, all types of partnerships and not the selective few who meet the perceived culture.
Guidelines for Events
The aims are:
- To structure events that encourage training and preparation for KC Heelwork to Music competitions
- To provide a progression through levels compatible with KC HTM
- To encourage inclusion and graduated use of rewards during routines
- Set out and maintain guidelines for events
- Support organisations holding events
- Maintain a database of results
- Promote forthcoming events
To provide a hobby sport that is accessible, inclusive and designed to showcase training that can be achieved in a pet dog environment where specialist resources are not required. Awards are graded to represent skilful and creative adaptation of behaviours that allow the dog to express its personality and capabilities. Events can also provide an apprenticeship environment for developing judging skills.
Event organisers should agree to run events that:
- follow the spirit of the KC rules and regulations for HTM
- held under guidelines provided by Rewards Aloud
- provide awards, verify eligibility of participants, keep a record of entries and results
- be accountable, take suitable risk analysis, promoting inclusion, hold relevant insurance, music licences
- encourage judging training, feedback and promotion
Entry to events can be made in advance or on the day. When advertising events the ring size and surface must be stated.
Classes and progression through the levels should not be the emphasis of a Rewards Aloud Event but instead an opportunity to share the pleasure in training, preparing and performing routines that integrate people, dogs and music.
Organisers must direct the participants to the KC Rules and Regulations for HTM, and clearly state any rules they feel relevant for their event.
- No bitches in season may enter
- Dogs may only wear a half-check or flat collar which may be decorated.
- Only dogs over 12 months of age for Side-by-Side (heelwork) and 18 months for Liberty (freestyle) may be entered, unless the organisers are including special classes for puppies and young dogs where the moves allowed and safety requirements are clearly stated.
- Rewards are encouraged but must be used with consideration for other participants.
- No physical or verbal correction is allowed.
- Dogs may only enter two levels in the same division.
- Entries must include the dog’s pet name, wins in KC Events and RA Events up to the date of entry.
- Dogs do not need to be registered with the Kennel club
The descriptions of the divisions are broader than KC divisions but do not penalise those that are within them.
“Side-by-side” movement within a close radius (approx 2m), synchronised with the person and include engaged behaviours with imaginative adaptation. (heelwork)
“Liberty” freedom to showcase distance work, theatre, drama, storytelling, dance, movement, integration with props but not leading to circus extremes. (freestyle)
Participants must maintain a record of their dog’s wins in all events.
There is a maximum number of 12 entries per class stated of which at least 50% will be awarded rosettes. There is only 1 judge per class. When entries exceed 12 the class can be closed or will be divided at the discretion of the organisers.
Judges should agree to judge with the spirit of encouraging a rewarding experience for both dogs and people. Although participation may cause some stress, enjoyment and consideration for future potential should always be considered. Winning should represent a mutual exhibition of pleasure in training with creativity and innovation.
Content: a measure of quantity and quality in behaviours that show engagement, consistency, adaptation and enjoyment.
Style: musicality, flow, cohesion, creativity, imagination, choreography
Rewards: graded by the amount and degree of luring, (incentivising) to elicit responses, and the frequency of the reward (reinforcement) delivery.
- Continually visible rewards and/or incentivising with very frequent reward delivery
- Intermittently visible rewards and/or incentivising with intermittent reward delivery
- No visible rewards, no direct incentives, infrequent, discrete reward delivery integrated into the routine.
Rewards and incentives can be either toys, food or affection or audience applause. Rewards can be carried in hand, in pockets, located inside props, at reward stations or placed in the ring, but not used to deliberately cause error. The graduation from luring (incentivising) to reward (reinforcement) should be encouraged.
The judge will look for clean integration that allows for the flow of the routine, such as a discrete show of affection, or a quickly delivered treat. Interrupting the flow is less desired but may be necessary, with a full-on party at the close of the routine whilst in the ring is encouraged. Rewards must be used sensibly and not freely distributed at a cost to other participants.
At the end of the class the judge will declare the places they have awarded to the participants for 50% of the entries. Judges can make this choice how they wish, but are likely to use some type of points, personal grading or comparative system.
The structure, eligibility of the classes relates to KC HTM competitions but with more graduated progression for the time of the routine. Dogs may only enter two levels in the same division.
RA Level and Division
1 Side-by-side / Liberty
|1 min||Starters HTM / Freestyle|
2 Side-by-side / Liberty
3 Side-by-side / Liberty
|1 min||Novice HTM / Freestyle|
4 Side-by-side / Liberty
5 Side-by-side / Liberty
|2 min||Intermediate HTM / Freestyle|
6 Side-by-side / Liberty
7 Side-by-side / Liberty
|3 min||Advanced HTM / Freestyle|
8 Side-by-side / Liberty
Eligibility and Progression
Wins are calculated for the same division, ie: wins in Liberty or KC Freestyle are only relevant for Liberty eligibility and not Side-by-side.
|Open to everyone, except dogs, owners or participants having won 1 x 1st in the same category at any KC HTM competition / RA events|
|Anyone except dogs, owners or participants having won 2 x 1st in the same category at any KC HTM competition / RA events combined|
|Anyone not eligible for Level 1 or a dog having won 1 x 1st in the same category at any KC HTM Novice competition / RA events Level 3|
|Anyone not eligible for Level 1 & 2, or a dog having won 2 x 1st in the same category at any KC HTM Novice competition / RA events Level 3 combined|
|Anyone not eligible for Level 1-3 or a dog having won 1 x 1st in the same category at any KC HTM Intermediate competition / RA events Level 4|
|Anyone not eligible for Level 1-4 or a dog having won 2 x 1st in the same category at any KC HTM Intermediate competition / RA events Level 4|
|Anyone not eligible for Level 1-5|
|Anyone not eligible for Level 1-6|
If you are interested in further discussions, events etc go to the FaceBook page: Rewards Aloud