Earlier tonight I did a bit of training with Gretchen, my black and tan German Shepherd bitch. I’m hoping she will be my next obedience champion, if only I had the time to consistently train her. Oh well…
Anyway, we rehearsed sits and downs, and I not only mixed up the sequence of the exercise, but varied the amount of treats that I gave. So sometimes I’d ask for a sit, then I’d give Gretchen a treat when she complied. Then I’d ask for a sit and down, and give one or two treats. Next I’d ask for a sit–down–sit and give three treats. In clicker-training parlance, that’s called a variable schedule of reinforcement, and it’s a powerful training tool.
Somehow during my training, I lost track of how I was treating. Perhaps I inadvertently kept giving three treats for the tri-fold sequence, sit–down–sit. At one point I asked for this tri-fold pattern, and gave Gretchen a treat. Instead of gobbling it up, she dropped it on the ground between her paws and looked at me expectantly. I released her from the last cue and encouraged her to eat her treat. She didn’t budge. I gave her a second treat. She put it between her paws beside the other treat and looked at me as though I was rather slow. Finally I relented and gave her a third. She ate it and then proceeded to eat the other two treats.
Dogs are smart, and I’m beginning to wonder if they may have numeracy skills!