Stephanie in Real-Life
If you know me in real life, you know I’m really bad about cleaning out my car. In general, I’m a neat-freak and an organizational nut, but there is something about my relationship with my car (her name is Dallas. Don’t ask…) that makes me feel as though my cleaning preferences do. not. apply. I’m usually so busy trying to get from Point A to Point B and making 27 stops in between, that even though it would be simple to unload my car on the way into the house, what is the point?
Anyway, the other day I totally broke character and took the time (all of about an hour. Woah.) to clean out my car. When J got home from work, I proudly showed him the fruits of my labor. Instead of the respect and admiration I was expecting, J looked at me with an amused smile on his face and said, “Steph, we don’t get rewarded for the things we are supposed to do.”
Oh. Uhhh…. Hmm. Well that’s not the way it works in dog training, is it? So why should my life be any different? He didn’t buy into my argument, but he also didn’t comment when I served myself an extra helping of ice cream that night, so I guess that’s sort of the same thing. Whatever.
Dogs in Real-Life
Of course, like everything else in my life, I began to relate the experience to dogs. This got me to thinking about dog training. In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes made by the average dog owners I encounter, is that they fail to use every opportunity to reward positive behavior elicited by their pet.
Of course, during a focused training session, most conscientious owners would typically be prepared with treats or other reinforcements. However, I think that it is important to remember that even daily behaviors that have not been offered in response to a request, should be rewarded. For example, if you have a dog that is always underfoot in the kitchen, it will be to your benefit if you offer him food whenever he chooses to lay on his bed in the living room as opposed to being in the kitchen with you.
Remember, we want to approach issues with our pups by asking “What behavior do I want to see?” as opposed to “How do I make my dog stop this negative behavior?” Dogs are practical creatures, and so they repeat what works. They do not choose to be stubborn or vindictive… because those things don’t serve them! Because of this logical canine approach, it is so much easier to reinforce behavior than it is to eliminate it. If we take this approach to dog training, not only are we going to see positive results, but we are also going to improve our relationships with our dogs. If training is consistently about rewarding our dogs for good behavior, we will be molding dogs who are that much more willing to figure out what they can do to elicit a favorable response from us. Training becomes fun and relationship-building!
The only way to discourage a behavior you don’t want, aside from being forceful (which, remember, we will never advocate!) is to ignore it. While ignoring the behavior and thereby removing attention can be an effective technique, it is not as instantaneous and does require repetition. If we instead focus on reinforcing the behavior that we do want, it becomes increasingly clear to the dog what behavior earns them the reward that they desire. Remember, dogs are practical creatures… they will repeat what works!
Thank goodness dogs are not like people, because I can promise you that offering myself an extra bowl of ice cream did not equate to a cleaner car the rest of the week. (Darn it, J and your wisdom.) But I can also verify that regularly offering our dogs rewards for staying out of the kitchen, or getting along amicably, or respecting our space, or waiting before going through the door, or staying quiet when visitors come to the door, results in appropriate behavior when those situations arise in the future. I guess you could say that my dogs are smarter (or at least, more trainable) than am I. 😉