Downeast Dog News
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What's in your Wallet?

It Pays to be Generous
By www.dianalogan.com | Dec 01, 2021
Photo by: www.dianalogan.com A Powerful Mix! This medley of small, high-value treats includes a variety of meat-based treats both store-bought and homemade.

Does your dog training wallet contain the right kind of Canine Cash? Does it have sufficient purchase power to turn your dog's head? Does she light up with excitement when you invite her to join you for training games? Does she say, “wow!”?

Appropriate Canine Cash can transform ho-hum training into joyful, highly efficient, effective, and engaging sessions. But what is “appropriate”?

“Meh” vs. “Wow!”

I was walking Skipper in Freeport the other day and a couple came along with their lovely young foster dog. The man asked if he could offer Skipper a treat and I said yes. He reached into his pocket and presented him with a teeny, tiny, pale, dry, milk bone - his treat of choice (“his” refers to the man). Skipper took it politely but only ate half of it; the other half was unceremoniously ejected onto the ground and no attempt was made to retrieve it. He effectively said, “meh” to the man’s "favorite" dog treats.

The foster dog, meanwhile, was pulling on leash, focused on the activities around him despite the fact that his human had a pocketful of the equivalent of unsalted Saltines.

Slightly flavored pieces of cardboard.

Anemic dry nuggets of boringness.

Would you go out to eat at a fancy restaurant and order a bowl of cereal? Get excited about playing a game that bores you to tears? Probably not. Likewise, your dog won’t be excited about learning if the rewards don’t motivate her in the environment in which you are working. What we assume should be sufficient payment isn’t necessarily how the dog feels, and our dogs are unapologetically honest about their feelings. While boring nuggets of dry tasteless cardboard might excite your dog at home (are you sure about that?), they are unlikely to be valuable in other situations.

I gave the man a small handful of treats I had in my treat bag (see photo for example) and his dog instantly erupted into a jumping ball of enthusiasm. The difference could not have been more striking. The dog went from viewing his humans as annoying weights at the other end of his leash to being relevant creatures he wanted to interact with. “I want that! I want that!!” he clearly said.

How will you know when your dog says, "wow?"

If you are offering treats, she will quickly eat a treat and then immediately turn back to you as if to ask, "how can I get more of THAT?" If it’s a toy or a game, she will orient towards it, her ears will be perked, body activated, attention focused on what she wants.

Perceptions

The man liked the milk bones because he could put many of them in his pocket. They were small, dry, easy to handle and to dispense, but he was effectively trying to pay for real services with Monopoly money.

We Get what we Pay For

A simple way to describe how we invest in behavior is that we grant the dog a reward for behaviors we want and we withhold payment for behaviors we don’t want. The more times we pay for specific behaviors, the more likely we will get them in the future.

Does it always have to be Food?

Heck, no! We can use anything our pup values as reward for a specific behavior as long as we control the timing of it. The reward must come within two seconds of the behavior to be effective. It can consist of initiating a game of tug, tossing a toy, attention, food... whatever your pup loves! But food.... our pups need food to survive so it tends to be a good way to get many repetitions in, and a pup needs lots of repetitions in order for a behavior to start to gel.

It Pays to be Generous

Now, check your wallets and make sure you have “Wow!” rewards.

If you want ideas for treats, please visit my website and search for "treats and rewards." You'll find a list of recommended store-bought treats and even some recipes for making some at home.

Happy Training and Bon Appetit!