Behavior & Training
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Rewards Redux


Another PR tool that’s always handy to have is putting a problem behavior on cue and then using it as a reinforcer. My absolute favorite example of this came from someone whose dog loved mouthy play. The guardian put it on cue by saying “Rabies!” Now, she not only has control over the behavior, she can use it as a reinforcement. Brilliant! I did something similar (although nowhere near as funny) with Lassie by teaching her to jump up on me when I said “Be bad!” Lassie had come to me at 11 months as one of the worst leapers I’d ever seen. She’d launch herself up to a visitor’s face and, suspended midair, put her tongue halfway down his throat (we called her the French-kissing queen). It took many months, but I eventually taught her to sit while greeting company by using food treats and putting jumping-up on cue. She still loved to leap toward faces, so it turned out to be a great way to thank her for doing what I had asked, including sitting politely for company.

I’ll end on my current favorite example of creative thinking. One guardian had a scent-hound mix named Maggie who couldn’t be trusted off-leash. As happens to the best of us, the dog got out of the house one day and was just about to take off when the guardian spotted one of Maggie’s best friends close by. Nope, not another dog, but rather, a cat she loved to play with (a mutual pleasure, I’m happy to report). Our quick-thinking guardian grabbed the cat, held him up in the air and said “Maggie! Kitty!” and her dog came running. The three of them dashed into the house together, the dog and cat played joyfully, and the guardian breathed a sigh of relief. Now, that is quick thinking!

Granted, we can’t all grab a nearby cat, but I’ll bet there are at least five things your dog loves that you haven’t used yet. If you have an example of a creative reinforcement, share it with other Bark readers. You can send your ideas to editor@thebark.com, or look for our Facebook page for discussion on this topic.



This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 61: Sept/Oct 2010

Patricia McConnell, PhD, is an animal behaviorist and ethologist and an adjunct associate professor in zoology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as well as the author of numerous books on behavior and training.

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Submitted by Anonymous | March 2 2011 |

Great article!!

I have a 15 month old male doberman who does anything for food. Like the article states, if I do not have food, theres a good chance he will ignore me if his priorities are different than mine. So I started to train with a tug toy that only comes out during training and alternate that with food rewards. This guy will do anything twice as fast if it means he gets to play somewhere during the session.

Now I am going to look for other methods of motivation. As I see it, the more interesting you can make it, the more they want to do it.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 24 2011 |

I often use my friends' dogs' play as my Doberman's reward when I'm at the park. Today, I also learned that she responded REALLY well to my high-pitched voice on her recalls. Reading this article let me know to be more creative with my PR rewards! I'm glad I found this article.

Submitted by Gerdien | January 26 2014 |

I once had a moment of quick-thinking, very successful training, and learned a lot from the result. My Airedale picked up a piece of candy in a store, and as I had taught her not to pick up food from the floor I immediately told her to drop it. Something I never expected this food-mad dog to do: she dropped it in an instance!
And I didn't have anything on me to reward this great piece of behaviour.... So I told her to 'take it' again and let her eat it as a reward (it was a harmless piece of liquorice). I'll never forget this moment, which I was fortunately able to reward with the same device that caused the problem haha

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