I recently finished the German translation of Kathy Sdao’s book Plenty In Life is Free. It’s a great little book that makes a strong case for treating animals with kindness. One of my favorite parts is Kathy’s SMART x 50 protocol, which is presented as an alternative to NILIF (training based on the assumption that Nothing In Life Is Free for dogs). SMART stands for “See, mark and reward training.” Kathy advises her clients to count out 50 treats every morning, and use them to see, mark, and reward desired behavior throughout the day. The goal? Having an empty treat bowl in the end of the day. 50 sounds like a lot, but once you get in the habit of catching your dog being good, your treats will go like hotcakes.
I recommended that protocol to a number of clients when I first read Kathy’s book, but then somehow forgot about it. Now that I was translating Plenty in Life is Free, I decided to implement SMART for the next week with my own dogs, particularly Game – an adolescent whose house manners were a bit all over the place! For 7 days, I’d take one cup of kibble out of her daily food portion and put it on the kitchen counter every morning. Throughout the day, I fed Game any time I caught her being good, and if anything was left at night, she got it with her dinner.
Within a week of paying attention to catching Game being good, I had her mat manners back: anytime she chose to hang out on her mat and I happened to see it, a treat would materialize between her front paws. Anytime she stayed in the yard without immediately scratching the door when I went inside – a new habit she had developed recently – I’d treat her. She didn’t need to do anything specific – any behavior other than scratching the door or whining got reinforced. The first two days, I mostly fed her standing in front of the door expectantly. On day 3, she chose to lie down, and that’s what I could capture. My criterion was simple and ensured I had countless opportunities to reinforce Game: if I don’t dislike it, I’ll treat it!
In only one week, I had Game’s good house manners back. The best part: I didn’t lose any time working on these things – the training just happened while I was going about my day. All I had to do was remember to prepare a cup of kibble in the morning, and get into the habit of seeing, marking, and rewarding behaviors I liked.
I challenge you to give Kathy’s SMART x 50 protocol a try yourself! Start today, and stick to it for a week. It’s ideal for behaviors you are too lazy to work on in designated training sessions – things that seem boring rather than fun to you as a trainer. Leave me a comment to let me know how it’s going, and what you choose to reward!
PS: I’m getting ready to teach one of my favorite classes at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Finding Five – Training for a Busy World is starting on December 1st. It is an entire class about fitting a little bit of training time into a busy schedule, making use of games similar to Kathy’s SMART x 50. It’s also a class about reviving your relationship with your dog: if the reason you haven’t been training or spending time with her is not a lack of time, but a lack of motivation, you’ve come to the right place as well. Registration is open, and I’d love to see you in class!