Lesson 1, Topic 1
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You Can’t Leverage a Cookie You Didn’t Offer

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A situation that comes up quite frequently in the game of disc, and also in dog training in general is when the dog has hit the target criteria and then turns down the “cookie” after the positive marker.

This happens with drop and give training all the time. The dog drops on cue and the handler offers reinforcement, but the dog doesn’t come off the dropped disc.

Usually the first time this happens, the handler freezes. The next few instances of this the handler is unsure of whether or not to pay that part of the behavior, or if a cookie should be given or not. Then the handler won’t even offer the cookie until the dog has completely reoriented to the handler. The dog winds up going back to the toy or to some manic version of the target behavior.

And why wouldn’t she? Every time she looked your way you were boring. Standing there, doing nothing. Not very reinforcing, is it?

You can’t leverage a cookie you didn’t offer. So when the dog hits that target criteria, like teeth off on the cued drop, offer reinforcement excitedly and with purpose regardless of whether the dog is looking at you, or even if the dog is unlikely to accept the cookie. Fire that cookie out there like it’s liable to get away.

Offer reinforcement after a marker, consequently, for a bonafide behavior, and that behavior is marked and reinforced, whether the cookie was taken or not. The opportunity was clearly communicated to the dog.

Try this three to five times on a skill before shifting gears in pursuit of a successful solution. Three to five reps is kind of necessary. The dog needs a few reps to know that she is missing something. Besides the clock is ticking each time. After 30 seconds she might be pretty bored with chewing that disc and that fourth or fifth cookie might look like a much better deal.

If the dog doesn’t take the cookie offered, make sure it gets taken away in exciting fashion.

“Drop…Yes!” and the bite is offered as a cookie.

The dog goes back to chewing the disc and that bite offer gets snatched away,”Huh?” Ears pique and the head turns…

And then her teeth come off,”Yes!” and offer the Bite, quickly, sharply, and the dog flies over and takes the bite on the disc in hand. Boom!

You can’t leverage a cookie you didn’t offer