A dog will be motivated to do a behaviour, if they are rewarded for this behaviour they will be more likely to do it again.
What is your dog motivated by?
Every dog is different. Sometimes every day can be different too. Some dogs are strongly motivated by interaction – will do anything to be next to you and have you pat them. Some are play-driven – love to chase a ball or tug on a rope toy. Most will be motivated by food. As a dog owner you will have caught your dog looking at you with those eyes – you know “I’m sooooo hungry and I haven’t had anything to eat ALL day” most likely appearing whilst you’ve are eating your dinner. And often we think..“oh how cute…just this once” and hand them a ‘treat’ off your plate. Yep and there you have it! You have just rewarded your dog for ‘begging’ at the table by giving them what they want most – food! Don’t worry, we’ve all done it.
What is a reward?
A reward is something that the dog wants AT THAT TIME.
Food is always a quick and easy way to reward a behaviour in a training session – so it’s always best to train when the dog is hungry! And find a treat that your dog loves – generally something different from their day-to-day dry food. However if your dog has just finished a big bowl of dinner, having another treat / food may not be so desirable. Instead pats, cuddles, verbal reinforcement or play may be more beneficial.
It’s important to remember that if you use interactive play ensure it is tug, not fetch – as you may loose their attention. Tug you can have control over and use as a short reward, rather than something that leaves your hands.
The more you reward a desirable behaviour – the more they will exhibit the behaviour. Have you ever been given a bonus (or praise) in addition to your pay, for something you have done at work? Think back, did it make you want to try harder, do more or at the very least continue doing that behaviour? How uplifted, excited, happy and proud do you feel when you get that extra reward?
So the more you positively reinforce a behaviour, the more likely the behaviour will occur.
Think carefully – what behaviour are you rewarding? Sometimes we inadvertently reinforce (aren’t consciously rewarding) – such as patting your dog when they jump up on you, you are reinforcing them jumping up!
What is your dog trying to achieve by showing the behaviour? Do they want interaction with you? Do they only get this from you when they are barking at the window? For example when they are showing the behaviour that we ‘expect’ such as sitting calmly on their mat, it’s an expected behaviour isn’t it? But we forget to tell them that it’s the behaviour that we ‘expect’ inside. Then when the postie drives past the window, they jump up and bark – that’s when we step in…what have we inadvertently done? REINFORCED the barking.
So remember to tell your dog what is expected of them. And take every possible opportunity to reward them!