Six Little Pieces… it sounds like a self help book. Or a philosophy for living minimally. Maybe even part of a recipe for dinner? But nope, it is actually a phrase that became our mantra during a summer Nosework class. “Six little pieces!” Then counting out “One, good dog... two...three, what a rockstar...four, oh just excellent...five...six, super!” while doling out morsels to an eagerly awaiting pup. Eyes big with anticipation, tail wagging, just enraptured with his luck!
Are we just spoiling this happy pooch? Teaching him the world is all about eating as much as you want? Of course not - we’re specifically rewarding hard work with a worthwhile reward.
This is less about the actual delivery of specifically six pieces of food, and much more about making the reward meaningful by the duration and our involvement. Think of it as “five pennies is worth more than a dime.” The size of the actual piece of food reward is less important than how many and over how long. As much as your dog enjoys a big hunk string cheese - they’d prefer you delivering kibble one at a time while praising what an amazing job they’ve done over a solid ten seconds, then you just nonchalantly handing them cheese. Toy rewards have duration built in throughout the toss, catch, and tug engagement from you when brought back.
When asking a dog to do something difficult, we need to be sure we are rewarding accordingly - especially in early training. If my dog does a down on cue for the first time, and I passively tell them ‘good dog’ then move on, the likelihood of getting another down on cue isn’t very high. If I reward with a piece of yummy chicken - that likelihood goes up quite a bit. If I reward with lots of praise, some food and play - well then my dog is going to starting offering lying down, trying to go even faster, and being happier about it when asked! We’re over simplifying here, but what we’re doing is teaching our dogs that the behavior itself is rewarding, because of the anticipation of reward. Make them think ‘why the heck wasn’t I just doing this the whole time? This thing is AMAZING!”
When you have higher motivation to work by clear rewards, we can eventually ask for more behaviors in a row over a longer period of time, without losing focus. Meaningful rewards and praise build your dog’s confidence when they’ve worked hard for it (note: we don’t use these as bribes, they are rewards for behavior). A dog confident that they can figure out the right answer tries harder, even under distractions. When the game of obedience itself becomes fun, you will be able to vary how often, and what kind of rewards you give your pup. Want to learn more about how to achieve this? Check out one of our classes!