The cost of a reward

In this day and age of agility most all training articles, seminars, workshops etc, talk about which reward to use, treats, toys, or tugging. Some trainers voice that you should only use treats, or you should only use toys; and some trainers advocate using both treats and toys depending on what exercise you are working on.

I personally use both treats and toys in my training. I change what i use depending on the dog, the exercise and what i am looking to get out of the exercise.

The one thing i am seeing most every where in the country though is the dependency on some kind of reward, whether it is treats or toys. Most all trainers do not work without their various rewards, which is not a bad thing, dogs need to be rewarded during training.

But what i am seeing now are dogs who work for the reward and not the handler. I do train with rewards, especially when first teaching an exercise. But i also know i can go work both of my dogs with no reward whatsoever and they will work just as hard and just as happy for me.

Nargles and I last year

I think something that has gotten lost over the years is dogs working with the handlers, that teamwork between dog and handler, and the reward being that connection.

I work with my dogs right from the beginning that i am the reward, that getting a pet and a good girl from me is just as good or even better then playing with their toy or getting a treat.

When i go out to train with my dogs i will take a few treats in my pocket and they get a treat when they do something really great, but for the rest of the session it is petting and “good girls”.

I want my dog’s main priority first and foremost is that we play this game together as a team and not for a treat or a toy.

I use a lot of my TEAM training and ground work exercise to build that teamwork mentality between myself and my dog, i will use a lot of treats or toys when we are first learning an exercise and then i will gradually start using less and less (giving treats when she does something awesome) and petting for everything else.

I have found that not only does this increase the bond and teamwork between myself and my dog, but i also have greater freedom during my training sessions. I never worry about which toy i need to bring out or if i have a high enough value treat. Nor do i worry about having to bring higher value treats or different toys, because the dog has gotten bored of the current reward.

Agility is a team sport, and the dogs have to want to do it because of you the handler, and not a toy or treat to make that team run smoothly.

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