[One of the most fundamental aspects of dog training involves rewarding your dog when he does what you ask. But what is a reward? In this excerpt from her book Dog Sense, columnist Kathy Santo addresses this question, which is more complicated than it sounds.]
Right: Tracey Fulmer's Bailey
Please name for me the five things a dog would most likely perceive as a reward. Okay, name just the top three . ... Let's check your answers. Did you perhaps include at least one of the following: food, pats/scratches, toys, and words of praise? Indeed, all the above are widely recognized among dogs as being rewards. But that doesn't mean each of these will float every dog's boat. Most employees love to get a raise. But some think that they work too hard and you simply couldn't pay them enough to work any more. They value something else more than they value the most obvious reward typically thrown at them. So it is sometimes with dogs as well. To a dog who isn't a "workhorse" a reward might be not having to do another sit. It might even be Aunt Bessie's shriek as she tumbles to the floor when Pookiebear jumps on her at full steam. (Sometimes rewards are not in the eye of the rewarder. Sometimes, too, bad behavior is its own reward, so that even a correction for, say, a hit-and-run on Aunt Bessie is ineffective because the deed was so sweet, not to mention already savored, that it was worth whatever grief you'll give Pookiebear for it.)
OF REWARDS AND CORRECTIONS: THE CALCULUS OF ACTING UP
Like all of us, dogs are frequently engaged in cost-benefit analysis. Because response to correction varies from canine to canine, effective training depends absolutely on discovering your particular dog's comfort zone this is defined by both his pleasures (the things for whose enjoyment he'll do whatever you want) and his personal deterrents.... .
My Border Collie Trigger's favorite reward is a game I call Run, Run, Run ... . When she does whatever I've asked, as a reward I allow her to run frantically in a circle around me. Did I train Trigger to run around me? Nope. But when I observed her doing it of her own free will, I opportunistically attached a command to the behavior. Now, in training, she's permitted to do it only on command. Observe your dog, and find her natural bliss, then turn that into a reward.
Some dogs love high-pitched squealing praise or a good game of tug. Wrestling on the ground is also very popular. Toy access cannot be underestimated if your dog is really attached to whatever old shoe or rubber duck you may have. The key is to observe your dog when he is just being himself When he doesn't realize you're watching him, that's the time to figure out his ruling passions.
A break during the training session can be a real treat if your dog is somewhat ambivalent about training, if it's not yet his favorite pastime. How would he react if, after a perfect sit, you praised him, brought him back into the house (or your fenced yard), took off his leash and collar, and said, "You're done!"? The ultimate three-minute training session-a sit and that's it. Now, if you expect to have your dog trained before he's 1 0 years old, making this the rule isn't very efficient. Nevertheless, the occasional break from a more rigorous training pattern can produce gratifications for him that carry over into the next training session. By contrast, of course, a dog who loves training and thrills to the food/toy reward would not feel rewarded by breaking a session after one sit. Knowing your dog is the key to getting the most out of your training sessions. Is there a potential drawback to leisure as reward? A bit of one possibly. Don't be surprised if just as you begin your next session he seems to be saying, "Okay I did a sit, so I'm done." But the rewards will eventually outweigh any initial confusion. You don't expect a jackpot every time you pull a slotmachine handle. But if you've had the rush of winning once, you will more than likely play again. So it is with dogs. How many rewards of whatever kind will be necessary to fuel interest and keep him working harder and harder?-that all depends on who your dog is!
Washing day, Mike Fox, Rotorua, New Zealand