It’s the New Year and all across the world, dogs and puppies are finding their way into new homes. As owners one of the first things we need to figure out about our new companions is what forms of payment they accept.
Imagine you’ve just finished your first week of a new job, you see the accountant making the rounds and you’re anticipating that first paycheck. You’re sitting at your desk when the accountant comes up, leans over you, pats you on the head, says “good job,” and then walks away! How likely are you to come back the next week and work for that same pay? Our dogs are no different. We need to find the things that they feel are rewarding and that they are willing to work for.
Not All Dogs Work for the Same Things
Some dogs are willing to work for their regular everyday kibble, for others it’s hot dogs, or cheese, or a smartly thrown tennis ball. Whatever it is, it’s your job to find out what your dog will work for; and, you need to find more than one thing. When it comes to food rewards, I recommend that you find at least three different levels of reward.
Level 1 Reward
This is a reward that your dog is definitely willing to work for, but they’re not doing back flips and standing on their heads. This is the standard everyday training reward. Think of it as the straight pay that you get for a 40 hour week.
Level 2 Reward
This is a reward that is coveted by your dog much more and as such should be used for special occasions, when training sessions become a bit more difficult and you need a bit more motivation to keep the dog engaged. Using a human analogy, if you worked 80 hours a week but were only given standard pay for that second 40 hours; how productive would those second 40 hours be? On the other hand if you are paid overtime rate for that second 40 hours, you tend to be more productive.
Level 3 Reward
I refer to the level 3 reward as the “emergency” reward simply because it’s reserved for training those behaviors that are life and death. For instance, having a great recall on your dog can mean the difference between life and death. This is the type of reward that is so special to the dog; it will break away from chasing a squirrel across the road and in front of the car. For my Aussie Gavin, it’s Prime Rib, for another dog I had it was fresh boiled liver. This level treat is used for that one behavior and that one behavior only. If you like surf and turf and you have it every day of the week; after a while it ceases to become special doesn’t it?
Size Doesn’t Matter
All joking aside, if a dog likes hot dogs, he will work as hard for a one millimeter sized piece as he will for a one inch size piece. I’ve yet to meet the dog that will only work for a treat based on the size of the treat. I’ve trained dogs using just a very tiny smear of Gerber baby food as a reward. Now having said that, there are times when we want to give our dogs more than their regular share of a reward. It’s called a Jackpot and usually accompanies a breakthrough or to end a session on a particularly high note.
To sum up here are a few key points…
- Make sure that the reward is something that your dog is willing to work for, not something you think your dog should work for.
- Establish at least a few levels of treats so that you can pay out for overtime and bonuses.
- Do not use the special and reserved treats for everyday work, they will lose their value.
- Make your treat size as small as you possibly can.
If you can establish these three types of rewards for your dog, then you’re off to a pretty good start. If you have something you feel has been omitted or a comment of any type, please leave them here for us.
Looking forward to a great new year full of treats for us all…
Kevin, Jackie, Gavin, Annie, Tosha