Dog Train Like a Video Game
Have you ever been addicted to video game or computer or phone game?
I don’t have much of an addictive personality, but there have been times in my life where I have become slightly obsessed with a game or two.
First, was Super Mario Brothers when I was a kid.
Then, it was the Simpsons “Hit and Run”.
And, lately it has been some Candy Crush and Brain Games (at least I feel like I am learning something with Brain Games).
Why is it that these games are so addictive?
It is because they aren’t easy.
It is because they aren’t hard.
It is because they are just the right mixture of rewarding and frustrating!
Most of us adults don’t play games made for preschoolers; it simply is too easy and not challenging.
I would also avoid playing a game in Chinese, because I don’t speak or read Chinese and therefore it would be too difficult.
I play games that I can ALMOST win.
Most video games are geared to their demographic and are not too easy, and not too hard; and yet you are capable of winning or getting to the next stage within a fairly reasonable amount of time. This is critical, win too often and it isn’t challenging, never win and you will simply give up and find something else.
Millions of dollars have been spent researching just how to achieve this balance because gaming is a multibillion dollar industry. It is a very lucrative business because it works. It cost 200 million dollars just to develop Star Wars: The Old Republic.
People are more than happy to spend upwards of $100 per game and over $500 for a video gaming system (which goes out of date after a year or two).
Video gaming is clearly addictive!
I Propose We Train Like a Video Game System
You can utilize these same principles when you work on training with your dog.
You can make your dog addicted to training if you are really good at it, and you think of it as a video game for your dog.
But in order for these principles to work you must remember some very specific guidelines.
Your Dog Cannot WIN Every Time
Do you WIN every time you play your favorite video game?
No, no you don’t.
If you won each time it wouldn’t be as fun to play, actually it wouldn’t be fun at all. Winning every time is boring.
Unless you are learning, there is no reason to be rewarded every time.
Video games start easy and get harder and harder and harder over time.
But have you noticed that sometimes when you are having a hard time on a level it seems to soon get a little easier?
How Dogs Learn
It is surprising to note that your dog learns the same way that we learn, even though we don’t speak the same language we can teach them using these same principles.
When a dog learns, it is important to condition the behavior by rewarding it each time for correct behavior.
This reward system solidifies and conditions the behavior.
If you like it, reward it and you will see it more often!
But, people seem to get stuck after this point and end up with a dog that doesn’t listen because he isn’t hungry or the behavior is no longer rewarding (remember we must occasionally still reward behaviors we want to see even after the dog knows them) or he is bored and it isn’t fun.
I see people who are STILL bribing the dog or luring the dog, AFTER the dog knows the behavior. For more on understanding why bribery doesn’t work click the link.
You are not a human to dog PEZ dispenser.
So often, I wander through and watch an obedience class in week 6 or 7 and still see people stuffing food up the dog’s nose or inches from their mouth.
The truth is; if the teaching and the teacher is good you don’t need to bribe. The act itself is rewarding.
After all; I don’t need my boss to wander around and show me my pay check to get me to do my job. And, a great boss can make coming to work fun!
Sometimes the anticipation of reward is actually greater than the reward; for instance if I work hard enough I might just get a bonus! For more on understanding that, click on the link.
How to Improve Your Dog Training Like a Video Game
So you want to improve your dog’s obedience skills but you are not sure how?
Perhaps you want your dog to come to you faster when you call, or you want him to sit faster when you ask, or stay for longer periods of time.
You can use the same principles outlined above
You need to up the ante, slightly.
We can’t expect our dogs to go from a 10 second down stay to a 3 minute down stay immediately, so set reasonable criteria for your game.
Reward your dog for staying for 10 seconds the first time with one tiny treat (the equivalent of 20 coins in your favorite video game) and then aim for 15 to 20 seconds.
If the dog gets up at 12 seconds, simply don’t reward and ask him to try again.
If he stays for 20 seconds give him a jackpot of chicken breast or a small handful of treats (this would be like earning 10,000 coins in one of your video games).
Do you understand what a big difference that makes to him now? He wants 10,000 coins or the equivalent; but he will still be motivated if he is getting 20 coins.
And, if he doesn’t do it right the little bit of frustration will push him to try harder.
Learning isn’t always easy, and a little bit of frustration (like not getting to the next level in time) will push you to try faster and work a little harder!
But, you must be careful, if your dog is continually not winning anything it may become too frustrating for him to want to continue to play your dog training game!
As a general rule, if my dog fails more than 3 times in a row; I am going to make it a little easier for him. Or I am going to ask him to do something I know that he knows and will happily accomplish.
After all, we don’t always want a game or a task to get harder and harder and harder. Sometimes we like an easy win after we have learned something new!!
Now, we must make it slightly harder by adding more distractions or changing the criteria while making the reward even greater.
Let’s say I want my dog to come to me faster.
Sure, he gets a little treat for always coming when called, but I want him to drop everything and fly toward me faster.
So the first time I go to work on this I am going to have his FAVORITE thing, hidden on me (to show him is bribing him and defeats the opportunity of surprise!) in this case it is his puppy tug pillow. I am also going to have something wonderful to eat like my homemade liver treats
Now, I am either going to enlist the help of another person (this is best) or I can put him on a “wait”.
When I call him, I am going to run in the opposite direction.
This running causes his prey drive to kick in and he thinks it is fun and will give chase.
When he gets to me, I am going to whip out his favorite reward and play with him for a long while. I want this experience to be very, very rewarding!
Do you think he is going to come faster the next time?
And, if he meanders I won’t reward him; instead I will ask him to do it again so that I may again reward him for his prompt listening!
If you do it right, he will learn to give you what you want, a fast recall, a fast sit, or whatever game you choose to play!
Remember, to play with him like you are his favorite video game, let him win and go up a level and make it more difficult, and then let him win again!
You will both be addicted!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.