Something we talk a lot about on our courses is reward expectation and reward placement. Used properly, they are great training tools, but they can also counteract the training if we’re not aware of them. I simply use reward placement to create the reward expectation where I want it and to reinforce the behavior I want a little extra. For example, I can reward the dog for sitting by placing the treat far back, above its head, so I reinforce it for sitting heavily on its butt and not stand to take the treat.

While walking to heel, gun dogs often very quickly get a reward expectation in front of them – where all the interesting stuff happens. They can also easily get a great expectation on our hands – because they serve the treats.

In the heelwork training I almost always try to reward with my left hand and place it by my left panty stitch because that is where I want the dog to be. If I reward with my right hand, I risk that the dog pulls itself in front of me to meet my hand and then it ends up in the wrong position.

If the dog has a tendency to end up too far away from me sideways, I can exaggerate the reward placement a little and place it on the outside of the dog’s nose so that the dog bends like a banana to take the reward. At the same time, the dog’s shoulder ends up against my knee, so I reinforce it to be close.

Reward placement on the outside of the dogs nose – so that its shoulder ends up close to my knee.

I also try to avoid having treats in my hands – I want my hands hanging along my sides until I’ve reward marked , then I pick the treats out of my pocket and give it to the dog. I don’t want the dog to walk to heel only when I have treats in my hands or when I have my hands on my belly.

If it is difficult to get the treats out of the left pocket fast enough, that is the dog leaves the heel position before the reward arrives, I can have the treats in my right hand but move it over to the left hand behind my back (watch the video below to see what I mean). Feel free to try it a couple of times without a dog first, it often takes a little while to get it right.

I have worked a lot with Keen on this because as soon as I put my hand near my treat pocket, he jumped out in front of me – simply to get a better view of the treats. In the video below I show the various reward placements and examples of the reward expectation that I want to get rid of.

Today’s exercise

  • Think about how you are rewarding. What does your dog’s reward expectation look like?
  • Train heelwork at least once. (Note how many sessions and minutes of heelwork you do. Train what you and your dog need – it doesn’t have to be the training in the blog post of the day.)
  • Feel free to tell us and others about your training by commenting on the posts on our website and/or Facebook page.
  • If you haven’t participated in the challenge from the start, read here to find out how it works: Day 1: Heelwork challenge.
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Retrieving for All Occasions - Foundations for Excellence in Gun Dog Training
Retrieving for All Occasions - Foundations for Excellence in Gun Dog Training

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