By Laurie Darroch
Positive reinforcement is a powerful dog training tool. Whether the reward is a favorite CANIDAE treat, a toy, playtime, verbal praise or petting, dogs respond well to approval from their human companions. Rewards are much more than a simple Pavlovian type training tool to learn basic commands though. Here are ten reasons to reward your dog.
To build a relationship with your dog, he has to learn he can trust you for everything he needs, from food and a home to comfort, guidance and companionship. Intangible rewards such as time spent together and words of praise or loving petting can be a powerful motivator for a dog, particularly if they are very bonded to you.
Job Well Done
At the completion of a command, or doing something without being asked is a good reason to reward your dog. It may even be something they have already been doing appropriately for a long time; an unexpected reward will provide reinforcement to continue with that good behavior. If you are teaching a skill that is difficult to learn and perform consistently, they deserve a reward. It helps reinforce the learned behavior as well.
Most of the commands we teach our dogs are not something they learn in one session. It takes patience and slow steps to learn a full behavior and then perform it consistently. You may have to reward approximations and work up to performing the command completely. Whatever rewards you use to help reinforce their training, each step matters.
We are teachers to our dogs. They look to us to know what is allowable or not. We are their guides, and how we treat them reinforces how they react to us. Rewarding them is a way of teaching.
There are times when even we need a word of praise, a physical reward or a pat on the back “just because.” The same goes for your dog. They may not really understand why they are getting an unexpected reward of some kind, but they can sense the love and connection, and it feels good to them.
Rewards work better than punishment. Watch the difference in a dogs’ body language between positive rewards and scolding, and you will see that the connection is much more powerful and healthy when done in a positive way. A scared dog will cower and quiver, or be angry and resistant. A happy dog will wag its tail, wiggle with pleasure, and respond with energy. You are more likely to get your dog to do what you want consistently by rewarding them in a loving way that they enjoy.
Our dogs are often our protectors. They can be valiant in their instinct and desires to protect their home and loved ones. There are also times where they do an exceptional job of it and go above and beyond. Even a simple “Good dog!” said when your dog barks at an intruder on your property rewards him and lets him know he did the right thing. If you watch how your dog behaves when an intruder come into the picture, you can almost hear them saying, “Ha, I showed you who is protector here, you rude intruder!” A good watch dog finds reward in doing the deed itself, but an additional reward from you tells them you approve.
Who’s In Charge?
Being the source of all rewards is a very powerful and loving way to let your dog know you are the one in charge. If your dog looks to you for approval and praise, companionship and care, they know you are the human version of an alpha dog in their world. You become, in essence, the wellspring of all that makes them happy and keeps their world in order.
When your dog does not like doing some task such as taking a bath or going to the vet, a little bit of bribery can work wonders. If there is a physical treat or reward involved, that may be enough of a distraction or motivating force to get your dog to follow your direction. Sometimes it’s a matter of getting your dog to take that first step, and a reward can make it easier for both of you.
The concept of medicine is simply beyond a dog’s comprehension. If it smells or tastes bad, they may fight taking it. Wrapping an undesirable pill in a tasty piece of meat or a bit of CANIDAE dog food can often disguise it enough so your dog will take his meds without a fight. It is another form of reward, albeit one done with a bit of trickery on your part. In the end, the purpose for eating the treat is achieved, and your dog is happy for the unexpected reward.
Rewards come in many forms. Interchanging and using them to help your dog learn, or just to let them know they are doing a good job makes life more manageable and pleasant for both you and your canine companion. Dogs are essentially four legged toddlers who never grow up or move out. Their version of a “lollipop and a kiss” may be a pat on the back and a favorite treat, but rewards do the job they are meant to, if used correctly.
Perhaps part of our love of dogs and cats is the simplicity of their needs and behaviors. They are happy and content with very little, and rewards are sparks of joy coming from people they love who make their life complete. Isn’t that worth a little reward now and then?
Read more articles by Laurie Darroch