Would You Work for Free??: The Role of Rewards in Training
Updated: Sep 12, 2020
So often I get clients who misunderstand rewards and the roles they play in our training work. They refuse to reward their dogs for behaviors they want them to offer, and then don't understand why they no longer offer those behaviors. Generally speaking, what you reward is what continues. This also works with things you don't think is rewarding but your dog sees it that way. For example; you call your dog, they don't come, then you chase them around the yard. Annoying for you, great fun for your dog! It is much easier to notice and engage your dog when they are misbehaving, and to ignore them when they are being good. However in terms of your relationship with your dog and the behaviors they offer this can be counter productive.
Often owners get caught up in rewards equaling treats. While treats can be super helpful, they are not your only option. Some dogs who take treats at home won't take them outside once there is more distractions going on. You can also try toys or praise. An even better approach is to try all three! Then no matter where you are you have a way to praise your dog. You need to think of any interaction with your dog as a learning experience and be ready to reward them accordingly. Think of it this way; at your job, would you work for free? You need some kind of reinforcement to keep doing a good job. But, that doesn't always equal money does it? That could be a promotion, maybe you're a volunteer and that makes you feel good; but you need SOMETHING and so do our dogs.
I encourage you to play with rewards during your training. Find out what motivates YOUR dog and in a variety of situations. Look for reasons to reward them. Strive to capture more of the good. I am not a "ignore the bad" type of trainer, I just choose to see the good things my dogs are doing and rewarding those behaviors the most so they will continue to offer them. Get creative! Pay those dogs!
For the Dogs,