The reward system

If you are a longtime reader then you know by now that I am a positive reinforcement trainer.  I use rewards to enforce desireable behaviors.  When you use the reward system you cannot just assume that you simply whip out the cookies and your dog does everything you say.  Oh sure, there will be a few of you that this is how it happens for you but for the most, it is much different.  There are many things that factor into a reward.  First and most obvious does your dog like the item that you are offering?

Rewards don't always have to be food, quite often they are a ball, a frisbee, maybe a sock to tug on or even a big hug.  But the important thing is that the dog you are working with must enjoy this object or activity.  Otherwise they are not going to be hugely thrilled by it's offering.  In the olden days, way back 35 years ago when I was just starting out in my training life, a pat on the head was a great reward.  Let's just think about this for a second.  Your dog is heading out after a rabbit, prey drive is kicked into high gear, the catch closing in and you call your dog.  Like a great dog that your dog is, they stop dead in their tracks, turn around and come to you and you pat them on the head.  Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm?    Do you think that the dog is going to drop everything and come next time?

Chances are the dog is never coming; it is busy doing a very doggy thing chasing a rabbit.  And if you really want to be able to call your dog off of things with that much value on them, you have to practice and practice and practice.  Not only do you have to practice, you must create the best, most wonderful association to "come."  That means REWARD; payment, payday, moola.  Basically we need to let our dogs know that if they listen to you, it will be worth their while and we do that by rewarding their behavior.

Take Tilley, she was a timid and fearful dog when she was young.  When we would be out somewhere different she was often very uncomfortable and there is no way, no matter what I tried that she would take food from me.  For her in these environmental scenarios, food was not a good enough reward.  At home they worked great, and she'd happily snorfle them down for whatever.  But out when she was stressed it had to be better, bigger and more amazing.  Enter the ball, the mild mannered tennis ball, unassuming what weilding great power.  She was instantly transformed, I mean incredibly.  There was no sign of timid, fear, nothing.  She was a lean, mean retrieving machine.  And she would do whatever it took just to sink her teeth into that ball.

Every dog has something, I'm not saying that it will be easy to find but it's there.  Sometimes an owner and I have just about pulled our hair out to find something that works as a reward in a stressful or distracting environment.  And even if it is food, often it has to be really great and maybe stinky food.  I've gone to training sessions many times with my pouch filled with roast beef, liver, hotdogs and some yummy chicken gizzards.

That said; on the other end of the spectrum is the treat that is too good.  More on that in another blog.  ;)

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