Reducing Reinforcement: Getting Cookies Off Your Body!

March 30, 2024

An important step in reducing reinforcement is getting the cookies off your body.  We need to show the dogs that it doesn’t matter if we have rewards in our hands or not; the dog can still be rewarded for doing the behavior.  We are going to use treats as both a distraction and a reward.


If you want to read more about reducing reinforcement, check out this blog!


Step One: Cookies in Pocket


As you start the process of reducing reinforcement, you want to start in a familiar training area.  We want the environment to be as simple for the dog as possible as we focus on this new challenge.


In your familiar training area, place a few low-value cookies in an area inaccessible for the dog, like on a counter.  Show your dog the remaining cookies in your hand.  Then place those cookies into your pocket.  Cue a simple behavior.  If your dog is successful, reward from the cookies in your pocket.


If your dog cannot perform the behavior, take the cookies out of your pocket and show your dog that cookies are still in play.  Put the cookies back in your pocket and try again.


As your dog is successful, continue to raise the challenge level.  Generalize the location of the cookies, making them more easily accessible (and therefore more distracting) as the dog does well.  You can cue different behaviors and even start some mini-behavior chains.



Step Two: Cookies Across the Room


Next, instead of showing your dog the cookies and putting them in your pocket, you will show your dog the cookies and place them across the room.  Because we are increasing a challenge again by placing the cookies elsewhere, we will make everything else easier.


Start by placing your low-value distraction in an area inaccessible to the dog.  Make sure your dog sees you place the distraction.  Show your dog two cookies then walk across the room and place the cookies somewhere.  You want to make sure your reward cookies are the opposite of where your distraction is, so you are moving away from the distraction to reward the dog.


Cue a behavior and reward the dog by giving him or her the cookies you placed across the room.  If your dog is unsuccessful, show him or her the cookies, then put them back.  Start over.


Increase the challenges as the dog is successful, just like you did with the cookies in your pocket.


Step Three: Cookies are Hidden


Go back to your easy training area with your low-value distraction.  Before you bring your dog into the room, place the reward cookies somewhere in the room.  This time, we won’t show the dog the reward before we start.  Bring your dog in, place your distraction, and cue a behavior.  If your dog is successful, go to the cookies and reward!!  What a good dog!


If your dog is unsuccessful, show him or her the cookies.  Yes, there are cookies in this room!  Once you’ve shown the dog the cookies, take the dog out of the room and start the entire process over.  We don’t want to teach the dog that we’ll always show them the reinforcement!


It’s normal for dogs to get a bit stuck at this stage.  Don’t worry, your dog will figure it out!


Step Four: Generalize Reducing Reinforcement


When your dog is doing great in your training area, with all of the challenges increased as you have in previous steps, then go into the real world!  You’ll want to choose your locations carefully, ensuring you have a good place to set the distraction and the reward cookies.  If you can, you can place reward cookies around the room, rewarding the dog from a different spot each time.


Do this in multiple locations until you can walk into a novel environment, place a distraction, cue your dog, and know that he or she will perform the cue with no cookies in sight!


Reducing reinforcement doesn’t have to be a difficult process!  Let me help you with your journey through my online class starting April 1st, Beyond the Backyard: Distraction Training for Competition and Real Life!  I look forward to seeing you there!

Does your dog constantly offer behaviors when you just want them to be still?

Welcome to my brand new class, “Better Still: Stays Without Frustration,” a class designed for dogs who thrive on activity and are eager to please but struggle with stillness.

This class will address the common challenges of dogs who love to offer behaviors in anticipation of feedback from their handler. We will transform that movement into stillness by teaching your dog to find calmness and confidence in doing nothing.

You’ll learn how to build duration in stillness, gradually increasing the time your dog can maintain focus and calm without the need for constant feedback. By reinforcing the concept that quietness equals correctness, we aim to cultivate stillness in your dog without the need to offer movement.

Registration opens on July 22nd and class starts on August 1st! 


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