Dogs know how to count. If you give your dog one piece of food for each behaviour, over a short time they will learn that they are only ever going to get one piece. The problem with this is that you will end up with a dog that does what you want them to do, takes their bit of food, and runs off after that. It boils down to a safety issue, what if you call your dog, they come, you give them a piece of food, they run off on you and hurt themselves or someone else? You can fix this.
When you are happy with what your dog has done for you (or you have run out of food), you can give them a release signal. Options you may want to consider are, ‘All Done’, ‘Go Free’ or ‘Finished’, use whatever word you want, as long as it is consistent, and is not the same as another signal you have with your dog. This means that eventually you can call your dog to you, fiddle with the lead, or be distracted by something else, and know that your dog will remain with you.
Here’s how to train it. Get into the practice of always giving your dog more than one piece of food. Vary the amount, sometimes two pieces, sometimes five pieces. Give each piece of food one-at-a-time rather than a whole handful. This will keep them guessing, they will tend to hang around waiting for the next bit. It may save your dogs’ life one day.
As you practice, you can increase the amount of time between each piece of food. For example, when you begin with this, you may need to feed your dog every half second to keep them focused on you. Over time, you may be able to move to two seconds or more, between each bit of food before you release your dog. Practice this signal in different locations too. Eventually, your dog will remain with you for a long time, and through distractions, until they see the release signal.
Try to avoid using ‘stay‘ between each piece of food, that is a separate exercise that should be trained separately. You don’t need to say anything between each piece of food. Using too many words will only confuse your dog, and none of their behaviours will work with sharpness. Let the treats do the talking.
This is such a valuable tool. I see too many people ask their dog to do something, give their dog some food, and then walk off while their dog is still watching them, missing a great opportunity. Their dog wants to keep working. Eventually, that dog will learn that only one piece of food is every going to be offered.
Reserve the pats and love you give your dog until after you have given the release signal, done before, it only distracts them from the task at hand. It always amuses me to see people pat their dogs for a good job, to find that the dog moves away still looking at the hand with food in it as if to say ‘hey, we’re still working here, and if there is more food to be had, hand it over!’ Pats tend to rate lower than food or toys for most dogs. Lavish your dog with praise after you have finished working.
You can use your release signal when you are finished with your dog for any behaviour. Try this a few times with your dog, you will see that they will pick up on the release signal so quickly. It always makes my clients smile when we say ‘all done’, and the dog instantly walks off, or turns to the next person for food. What a joy!