In order for our dogs to learn, they must be given feedback–dogs learn that it’s not advisable to play with porcupines because the feedback they get is painful and is a punishment. Dogs learn that barking and whining can get our attention because, well, we reinforce their barking and whining by GIVING them attention. They base many of their choices of behavior on the history of feedback… “did something GOOD happen last time I did this?” If we want a behavior to happen again we simply need to reinforce it–but how, you might ask. The first step is to know what is rewarding to your dog. I wish I could communicate just how frequently I hear “my dog isn’t food motivated” or “he loves when I pet him for a reward.” The number of dogs who legitimately are not food motivated during classes are pretty few and far between and unfortunately the number of dogs who really enjoy that big hug and invasive petting as reward…. are also few and far between.
Susan Garrett made a suggestion at some point in some book or some webinar to make a list and rank each dogs reinforcers. What does my dog LOVE all the time, LOVE sometimes, Like all the time, Like sometimes, and generally doesn’t like. I have found myself referencing this list pretty regularly as reminders of just all the things I can use to reinforce desired behavior. I can mix up my motivators and make sure I’m choosing appropriate reward levels.
So, let’s take a look at some of what is on Shayne’s list of reinforcers (within the category, the reinforcers are not necessarily ranked since many depend more on the situation)
LOVES ALL THE TIME
Hot dogs (made crunchy in a toaster oven)
Canned dog food in a food tube
Tennis balls (playing fetch, not just the item)
Sent out to chase something
Large stuffing-less squeaker toys
Large jolly ball (or the tug jolly ball)
Leaping into my arms
Playing a crate game (being sent to the crate)
Barking at the mail carrier
Natural balance rolled food
Sniffing out critters in the brush
Continuation of work (next obstacle or next behavior)
Play with Rio
Swimming in natural body of water
Snuggling on the couch
Off-leash bike ride (well, me riding her running along)
She’s quite food motivated so most foods fit in this category
Opportunity to work
Released from work
Playing with a flirtpole
Greeting friendly strangers
Trip to the pet store
Visiting my neighbor
Access to the yard
Access to the kitchen
Access to the bed
Released from fenced front yard to hang out in the back
Being held like a baby in my arms
Playing with other dogs
Access to the porch
“Swimming” in the baby pool
Working with other handlers
Released to relax
So it’s not the full list but it was extensively thought about to figure out just what is reinforcing to my dog and how can I use that to my advantage in my day to day training. There are many times, on a walk for instance, when I may want the dogs to get closer to me for a time (passing people or dogs on the path)– I mark the behavior I want, then reward them by being released to the end of the leash once I can. I don’t need to reward with food or even have it on me to be able to reward the dogs. I know they always like to have 6ft of leash so I absolutely use it to my advantage.
There are tons of things my dog finds reinforcing and the vast majority are things that I can control… this control puts me at the helm of being the coolest thing in the world to my dog and that gives me quite the advantage in everyday situations.
HAPPY WEEKEND! (happy Canada day to my Canadian friends and Happy 4th of July to my U.S. friends–I will probably NOT be posting on Monday the 4th).