Bitework and the Infinite Reward Loop

Establish the Game

Before we get started working on skills and behaviors we need to establish a game. The pace and desire to play this game must be installed before the game is used to teach.

This is where many handlers blow it. They don’t add enough value to the concepts in play, Bite and Drop, and they don’t cultivate a fast paced game that the dog wants to play.

Try to cultivate a game that a dog loves to play and is good at before trying to teach lessons with the game.

Experience Infinite Success!

The game that we’re going to set up is pictured above. Ask for a bite, mark it when it happens “Yes!”. Reinforce with a short tug and let him win. Once the dog has won the toy, call the drop. When the drop happens, mark,”Yes!” and reward with a bite… and repeat.

This creates a reward loop. The dog can’t help but be successful. Bite — Yes! … Drop — Yes!… Bite — Yes! … Drop —Yes!… Bite — Yes! … etc. Everything is Bite! and Drop, and Yes!, Yes!, Yes!.

This reward loop enables the handler to get a very high rate of reinforcement (CPM) and deliver a very clear understanding of the bite and drop behaviors through reward and repetition.

Kiva has an issue with dropping too quickly, and Apryl does a great job here of setting up a great reward loop that contrasts very nicely with the downtime for dropping without the cue. It is this contrast that leads to a strong retrieve and the purposeful push of the toy into Apryl’s hand.

Then Play with the Slack

While Apryl is waiting for Kiva to hold the toy a bit longer, she is essentially waiting to give the drop cue. She’s increasing the slack at the bottom right of the diagram, increasing the time between the cued Bite and cued Drop. As a result of increasing the slack, giving the dog more time, the dog winds up carrying the toy. Of course that cannot happen without the historical value placed the biting and dropping behaviors and the consequent relationship between the them.

Notice that during the downtime that Kiva doesn’t check out or disengage from Apryl. The reason that Kiva stays engaged is because he really likes this bite and drop game. I mean, who wouldn’t! Apryl has worked hard to create a great game and when things are working right, “Whoo-hoo! is it a good time!” When Kiva drops early, it’s not such a good time. That stark contrast that did such a great job altering Kiva’s behavior can only be set up if the game moves at a fast pace, has a strong reward history, and is consequent.

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  1. Okay, first of all: holy crap! What a great illustration. April and Kiva are too cool. Talk about something to aspire to!

    Anyway, we seem to be making some progress already! Sam still does the mauling thing, but waiting and/or marking seems to work a lot of the time. And a few times we’ve even hit a brief bite (yes!)-drop (yes!) -bite (yes!) rhythm– very fun. But here’s my new question: Sam tends to want to bite the toy very close to my hand. I know the rule is if he touches me the game stops (and I observe it). But he still tends to go for the toy very near my hand– and he’s so gentle about it!– rather than toward the other end of it (we’ve been using torpedo-shaped ones lately). Any tips on encouraging him to take the part of the toy that’s away from me rather than near me? It’s tough just trying to get him to bite at all, much less bite properly. So much to manage!

    Thanks. And I can’t wait to see some videos of our “classmates”…

    1. Kiva and Apryl do Rock!
      First off, before I forget…

      Any tips on encouraging him to take the part of the toy that’s away from me rather than near me? It’s tough just trying to get him to bite at all, much less bite properly. So much to manage!

      Reframing the Question

      Let’s change our frame of reference from helping Sam perform these behaviors to reinforcing Sam for performing these behaviors. It changes things quite a bit, that little reframe pretty much answers the question, doesn’t it, and if it doesn’t do it for you, it sure points us in the right direction.

      Notice that the ‘Helping’ frame places the responsibility for making the behavior happen on the handler. This means that the handler often feels ‘silly’ when the dog doesn’t perform on cue. Oh, jeez, he’s not doing so hot, better help him… “Psst… The answer is ‘C’ kid…” 🙂

      Being successful and comfortable at waiting for behaviors to happen (Capturing) is dependent upon the handler understanding that we are reinforcing our dogs for behaviors performed not helping them perform behaviors.

      When dogs are consistently helped to perform behaviors, they are conditioned to
      require the help of the handler to perform the behavior. Essentially the Help becomes either the Cue or part of the Behavior Chain. This leads to a good deal of the issues that Sam and you are working through right now, Jeff.

      Good News!

      There’s good news! Pretty much all you have to do is to start viewing training through the reinforcement frame, making the behavior stronger or more likely to happen. If we focus on that, the solution lays itself out, pretty much.

      So we need to do things that make it more likely that the bite is going to happen further away from your hand. What can you do to make it more likely that the bite will happen further from your hand?

      One Thing at a Time

      You might want to wait on focusing on the proximity to your hand until Sam is really firing on the target. It’s not a big deal right now, really. If you just stick to the no touching hands criteria for now and change that frame of reference, you will have to work on “Don’t Touch Me!” in the near future.


    1. Hey thanks man. It wasn’t really a rhetorical question… 😉
      The details of this discussion Will be a large part of next week’s lesson.
      So what can you do to make that bite happen farther from your hand?

      Everybody can feel free to jump in here…

  2. Jeff form Auatrali Here
    Very clear ! Really good I would like to save this and the Shapping the Drop Collar Grab
    Is that possibale? Maddie is still work in progress. Do you have a video that shows the removel from the hand ?

    1. We’re working on that. I’d rather not just have the videos able to be downloaded. Jason and I will chat about it.

  3. Ha! Okay, so evidently I’m a little dense…

    What can I do to make that bite happen farther from my hand? Well, I can try to present the toy in such a way that what’s available for him to bite is not near my hand– and reinforce that– though that’s a little like “helping.” Or I could only reinforce (by marking, rewarding with play/tug) those bites that happen farther from the hand, not the ones that happen near the hand, pretty much like the no touch rule.

    But, as you say, at the moment it’s more important to focus on Sam firing on the target. Once he’s really hot for hitting it, it will be easier to refine where/how he hits– right?

  4. Hi Ron
    Not sure where to put this it my first video with Maddison aka Maddie I now it’s a bit long and I have cut it up a bit but I’m trying to show a lot of her behaviours. I now I should have ended it many times over but again I want you and Apryl to see Maddie. she has actually come a long way but I’m not we’re going on the right path. Be kind!

    1. Capture Instead of Cue

      When she leaves, do nothing. DO NOT RECALL HER! DO NOT GO AND GET HER. Capture her reorientation and bring her back into the game with a bite, a flashing and exciting toy or an opportunity to bite.

      So when she pokes her head out of the bedroom, you mark,”YES!”, and reinforce with some interaction. If she leaves, you ignore her again. If she doesn’t come back in a reasonable amount of time – whatever amount of time you are willing to donate to waiting on her – 2 minutes max – and two minutes waiting is a LONG TIME – I’m pretty sure you’ve never waited two minutes with her.

      Essentially what is going on is that her digging out and leaving and pussyfooting around is getting her verbal and physical reinforcement from you. She’s in control of the game. She can make you hop up and move to any room she wants. You are Lucky if you get a chance to play with her and she knows this.

      You are going to flip it. She’s going to leave and you’re going to do nothing. She’s going to come back and check in and that’s what’s going to earn interaction with you. You need to make her understand that playing with you is an opportunity. One she could lose if she’s not on the ball.

      Practical Application


      So at 12 seconds,”Yes!” for the reorientation to the handler.
      At :29, “Yes!”
      At :38,”Yes!”

      When she’s checking out the chair at 1:05. Don’t ‘un-uh…” it, ignore it… Again her actions that don’t deal with the game are getting your attention. If she wants to check out the chair, let her. Capture her reorientation and reinforce.

      Great job capturing the Targets @ 1:13 + 1:18 – I would have presented that Bite that she took @1:23 as reinforcement for the Target behaviors.

      Generally speaking, your marker is not followed up by reinforcement with Maddie. I understand why, most likely you believe she won’t take the reinforcement.

      It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the reinforcement is offered and is consequent. Had she taken that bite @1:23 as a cookie for @1:13 or 1:18 it would have reinforced those Targeting behaviors.

      The target @1:20 may have been reinforced with the opportunity to bite, which is why she struck the target so hard.

      Patience and Confidence

      When she digs out, you can’t wait 10 seconds without calling her. That is giving her inconsequent reinforcement and gives her too much power and control over the game. You are in charge of the game, Jeff. And your game ROCKS! Are you acting as if your game ROCKS with Maddie?

      @1:44, that should have been captured and marked instead of a recall that was more verbal praise than recall.

      @1:44, “Yes!” Bite! If she doesn’t bite? too bad, she missed out. She’ll reorient again, and the opportunity to bite is better than nothing.

      Carpe Diem

      @1:50 ish… play with that toy! She’s got it, right? Take it from her. Take it from her and throw it. Tug on it. Mess around with it. Do something, anything, that makes the toy more valuable than your praise and tactile reinforcement. Capitalize on her interest in the toy.

      After she lays down with it, DO NOT RECALL HER. DO NOT CALL HER. NO KISSY NOISES. Wait for her to stop chewing on it, or to look at you, mark and reinforce with the opportunity to bite or to play with the toy.

      When you did take it from her, you cued her to drop it first. Take that toy from her! Make her want it!

      @2:08 you marked something, couldn’t tell what, but you didn’t give her anything to go after – no visible reinforcement. When you mark, you need to present the opportunity rather quickly and sharply to trigger her prey drive.

      I’m going to stop there and ask that you create another video. And do not recall her – no coaxing, no kissy noises…
      If she checks out, just sit there and capture her reorientation. You must do this with both toys and cookies.

      Prove to me (and Maddie) that you can wait more than 10 seconds before calling and interacting with her.

      That right there, Jeff, is your problem. That inconsequent reinforcement and the idea that you are not an opportunity, but an obligation.

      Feel free to ask questions on the first 2 minutes of this video, but we’ll wait to move on until you’ve gotten her to see you as an opportunity.


      1. Ron
        That’s great. thanks for this. I’ll try and get the video up soon. After using VLC to match the times I can see what you say and mean. ” mark the reorientation with the opportunity to bite. if she does not take the opportunity so what, wait for the next reorientation mark it and present the opportunity to bite. not sure how to do it with cookies because with cookies she always oriented on the cookie and or me.
        Jeff & Maddie

        1. You Got it Jeff.

          With cookies you can work it by frustrating her a bit. Challenge her a bit too much and she’ll be liable to check out. She’ll leave expecting you to follow and then she’ll come back to see where you are or why you are so quiet.

          Not very good training advice, but it should manufacture a reorientation with cookies.
          Look forward to your next installment.

    2. It is SO helpful (and fun) to see others’ videos and read Ron’s comments on them!

      And Maddie is a great looking dog, Jeff– what a face!

      -Jeff (and Sam)

      1. I think it’s probably the best learning on site, actually. That 3rd person perspective. It takes so much of the personal stuff out and often helps to clarify seemingly unrelated things for that third person and their dog.

        It’s the same in seminars and camps. We ask everyone to be sure to be close enough during the personal instruction time because if you only take your personal time, you only get 20 minutes of learning, but if you watch everybodys, you can get hours of info and also catch those common threads that tie everything together.


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