ClickerSolutions Training Articles

"You Won the Prize!"

"You won the prize" originated, I believe, with Susan Garrett. The author of this post does a fabulous job explaining it, however.

My female Sandy is just about driving me nuts. She barks at everything that comes to the door and I can't get her to stop. I started with having her on lead and focused on me when I know for example the pizza guy is going to come.

I have used bitter apple and that works sometimes. The main goal for this is that I don't expect the barking to stop 100%, she's a dog, I know that. I would like for her to stop when I tell her to though. If she is at the window barking I can do a recall and reward that, but like I said, the barking at times is more rewarding.

Try the "you won a prize" method. It's basically a time-out, but given so cheerfully that the dog doesn't seem to realize it's in trouble. I used this quite successfully with my greyhound girl Allegra, who was seriously trying to break through an 8-foot-wide picture window several times a day to get to passing squirrels, dogs, kids on skates, cats, crows, mailmen, trash collectors, etc. I got this idea from someone whose dog would not stay off the kitchen table. It requires that you become a world-class actor--the whole point is to never show that you are angry, just give the dog a very short time out **every** time the forbidden transgression occurs.

When your dog barks, just say "You won a prize" in the most disgustingly chirpy voice you can muster, then go take her collar and cheerfully and gently put her into a crate or a room that's located in a remote area of the house, where she will spend the next 2 to 5 minutes totally alone. Set a timer so you don't forget her. When it goes off, let her out again immediately, and wait for the next incident. You MUST be totally consistent or this won't work.

It took Allegra less than 7 days to go from a screaming maniac who was in danger of killing herself on the picture window glass 10 times or more a day, to a dog who was literally gurgling as she tried to swallow her barks before I heard her. She never once acted as if she'd been "punished", and she would cheerfully RUN, tail wagging, to our basement for her "prize" time-out. After a few weeks of awarding "prizes", I cut the time down to 30 seconds unless the object of her attention was still hanging around outside. After a while, she learned to bark just once, then come and get me to go see what was out there. She's even gotten so I can call her off of fence-fighting with the pitbull-mix next door, one of her all-time favorite activities. All I have to do is ask her if she *wants* a prize, and she comes over to me grinning and wagging happily, and the fence-fight is over. I've been "awarding prizes" for about a year or so now, and she is down to maybe 3 or 4 prizes per *month* on average, some months she gets none at all.

It sounds weird, but it really, truly works.

But... *grin* If you don't reward getting into the crate then how do you know the dog wont run away from you when it sees you coming -- to escape having to go into the crate. Especially since most dogs would see it as a negative thing. Even if you are happy about it.

That's the whole point. You don't MAKE it a negative thing. It's a happy-happy-joy-joy-honey-sweetie-doggie-dearest, you just won a wonderful prize sort of thing. The dog won't have any negative body language or sounds to associate with having done something "bad". It's a tad confusing to them at first, but I've used it on two dogs now with the same exact effects. (I'm currently using it on Allegra's aunt, who's boarding with us). The dogs quit what they're doing and get all excited to see what their "prize" is going to be this time! It's always the same, a couple minutes of isolation, followed by a quiet, calm release. But they are fooled (or agree to go along with me) every time. There is no need for a treat to make it a not-negative thing, because it's NOT a negative thing. It's neutral!

I just saw Melissa's response to your post:

"That's why the suggestion is to intentionally be positive. Hey -- he won the prize!! It's up to him to decide whether or not he wants to win the prize. If not, he probably shouldn't play the game."

That's exactly it. After several prizes, the dog quickly learns that this is the new result of barking (or climbing on the table, or whatever). Every time, bar none. If he doesn't want to win that particular prize, he won't bark, or whatever is winning him those prizes. After he figures out what makes you DO that, it's the dog's choice to continue to perform that behavior or not, same as with clicker training!

I swear to you, this works and it does no damage to the dog's psyche. <smile> My brat girl Allegra is one incredibly sensitive dog when it comes to punishment. I nearly ruined her with "traditional training" (choke chain and lots of yanking) before I discovered positive reinforcement/motivational training/clicker training/call it what you will. She literally wilts physically if she's punished for anything, becomes a crawling pile of shivering black brindle fur. She has responded to the "prize" method for reducing the frequency of unwanted behaviors better than she has to **anything** I've ever done with her before, and she has responded with a sincere "doggy smile" and a wagging tail every time.

Kathy Johnson
copyright 2001 Kathy Johnson


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