The Art of Reward

a hand drawn illustration of a puppy with a bubble above his head. In the bubble are four activities: a ball bouncing, a dog dock diving, a puppy getting a belly rub and a squirrel under a tree. The caption to the right the puppy “Hmm... what do I LOVE?" and below that "I know - let's go shopping for a pink puppy dress!"

 

It’s a hot, sunny, summer day at the beach. Not a cloud in the sky. The waves gently lap the shore, gulls call to each other. The sun is beating on you and you’re thirsty. You’re waiting for your friend. Finally you see them walking down the beach carrying a gift bag. “Sorry I’m late!” they call. “This is for you!” In the bag is a handmade wool sweater. “I knitted it myself! It is really warm and thick.” “Thank you!” you say, as you think …wow, nice sweater, weird, but nice. I don’t really like wool… and I’m not that keen on the color blue… why wouldn’t she just show up with a cold drink for me instead?

You’re stranded on a deserted island and your food and fresh water supply is dwindling fast. A very promising looking bag has washed up on the beach. Eagerly you run to it hoping for food, fresh water or a communication device. Inside are oodles of hundred dollar bills. Drat!

Silly stories? Sure they are, but they illustrate an important point. Not all rewards are created equal. Things that are rewarding in some circumstances are not necessarily rewarding in other situations. What one person finds rewarding can be of zero interest to another. We are all different and so are our pups.

So how does this relate to us training our puppies with rewards?

When we work with rewards we need to make sure the rewards we choose are actually rewarding to the puppy. In essence this means that the puppy is the one who should be determining what we are using.

How do we do this? We need to observe our pups and learn their preferences. We need to get creative and have fun with rewards. We need to keep a variety or rewards on hand and aim to have plenty of fun surprises for our pup’s great performances! We must master the art of reward!

a hand drawn illustration of a puppy with a bubble above his head. In the bubble are four activities: a ball bouncing, a dog dock diving, a puppy getting a belly rub and a squirrel under a tree. The caption to the right the puppy “Hmm... what do I LOVE?" and below that "I know - let's go shopping for a pink puppy dress!"

Observe and Get Creative

Rewarding your pup with food is great as long as the pup loves the food. Some dogs prefer toys to food, others prefer a chance to chase something, greet a person or get a good belly rub or massage. What my dog finds reinforcing may be very different from what your dog finds reinforcing.

One of my favorite rewards for Fen is to let her chase a squirrel (as long as the squirrel has a good escape route) that I have called her away from. She has to come away beautifully twice and then on the third time she might get to chase. Not always, but sometimes.

This is an example of watching and seeing what my dog loves and using it to reward her great recalls. It’s a win for me, for Fen and for the squirrel that always gets away, although the squirrel might not agree.

Another example of observation is Fen’s response to me clapping and cheering for her when she makes a great catch while we are playing ball. Her body posture changes, it lifts and she runs back to me a bit faster and showier, she looks so happy about her accomplishment and really appears to love the cheering on. Try cheering and clapping for your puppy the next time you are playing a game with them. Do they seem to respond to the cheering in a positive way?

Variety!

What’s in your treat pouch? Our rule of thumb is a minimum of 4 different types of tasty food treats. Does your pup love the food in your treat pouch? If not it is time to experiment and see what your puppy gets excited about. Tasty pieces of cheese, turkey, hotdog or smoked duck are all usually good bets for pups that are food motivated. Kibble tossed with a tiny bit of bacon fat can be irresistible. The challenge is to get creative and have some really ‘high value’ puppy currency available for those times when you need it.

What’s in your puppy’s toy box? Is there a fun array to choose from? If the toys are always put away after play it helps keep them interesting to your puppy. It is really fun to let your puppy pick which toy she wants to play with during a play/training session. Put a few in a line on the floor and then see which one your pup picks up.

One of my students made me laugh when he told me that he buys all these nice toys but what his dog really loves to play with are old deflated balls and other things she finds in the trash. Good for him for being a keen observer of his dog’s preferences!

An Invitation!

We invite you to experiment and get creative with what you use for rewards with your pup. Have fun with it. Once you have a good sense of your dog’s reward preferences you’ll be surprised to find what a treat this is for you. Training, playing and working together becomes much more successful. You’ll both start having a blast!

We’re pleased to be participating in the #Train4Reward Blog Party. Be sure to check out all of the other great blog postings at Companion Animal Psychology!

It Takes Two

A woman sits on a man's lap while he tries to explain something. The woman is looking away from him with a disappointed facial expression. A puppy is sitting in the foreground with his head tipped to one side as though he is trying to understand what is going on.

When it comes to couples rearing a puppy it’s not uncommon to have different views. We see it all the time. People come with their own history from childhood on how to raise a dog. Our own experience with discipline also affects our training approach. Puppy rearing and training have moved on over the last decade and for most people, “positive reinforcement” (using reward based training) is now the obvious choice. Here, we look at the top four decisions that couples will face in bringing a pup home. We hope that the dialogue will help you and your partner form a consensus on these key issues.

Decision #1.

What style of training will you use?

There are two main types. You need to choose between puppy-friendly positive reinforcement and the use of punitive techniques.

Dog training is unregulated so this key decision is left up to you. Reward based training has been scientifically proven to work. It’s the most forgiving approach and it’s fun and easy to do. Using harsh methods is no fun and unfair to the dog. It can also create dangerous behavioral problems.

No matter the approach, one thing is certain, you must reach a consensus on your training approach, it’s very confusing for a dog to be trained using both techniques and its unlikely to be successful.

We hope the humane approach wins.

Decision #2

Another big decision is whether or not to socialize your pup (with other dogs and our urban environment) before the puppy is completely vaccinated.

You need to know that … the number one killer of young dogs is not disease; it’s a lack of early socialization. Taking a calculated, well-informed risk and socializing your puppy before he is fully vaccinated is the best approach, as explained by the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour. Be cautious of ill-informed professionals, read what the Experts say and get to a Socialization class.

Decision #3

Crate Training

These days most people crate train over night. This is excellent, but daytime Crate Training is often overlooked. A puppy with too much unsupervised freedom is at high risk and will develop annoying behaviors. Nipping, biting, housetraining issues and a lack of focus are a few problems that are likely to occur. Structure and boundaries with supervised “play” and training when out of the crate is the healthiest approach.

You and your partner need to decide that you can put up with some puppy peeping until he settles down in the crate. Don’t worry, it’s natural, your pup will soon settle into the routine of being in his crate and you’ll be happy that he’s not underfoot. Take him out regularly, do some training and put him back in the crate while you are both still successful. He’ll tire quickly at which point, he doesn’t learn well, so keep time spent out of the crate short and successful.

Decision #4

What to prioritize first? House Training, Puppy Junior Obedience, Preventive Training or Socialization?

We think it’s important that you and your partner understand that Socialization and Preventative Exercises should be your priority.

House Training is what most people focus on. In the big picture, it’s the easiest thing to do and a no-brainer when you get some help and stick to a game plan. This is why we put House Training at the bottom of the list.

However for your puppy to be successful, it’s really important that you understand that there’s a small window of opportunity between birth and sixteen weeks when your puppy is highly adaptable and must learn to socialize with other dogs, meet new people and become comfortable in a complex environment. To be successful, you must both work hard to socialize him during this very short period of time.

Along with Socialization comes the idea of Preventative Exercises, these are games and training exercises that prevent the development of problem behaviors like food (or toy) guarding, biting and nipping and separation anxiety. The need for early-socialization is increasingly well understood and it’s likely to be recommended to you by your vet or trainer. However, the need to do training exercises with your pup to pro-actively stop the development of undesirable behaviors is a relatively new concept. So, please read up on this and incorporate preventative exercises in your game plan.

You may be surprised that we don’t give Puppy Junior Obedience training top billing. Manners are important, but understand that like house training, obedience training is not time-sensitive, so focus on Socialization and Preventative Exercises.

From our own experience, we all know couples that wait until they have a child before discussing their values. It’s not surprising that the same thing happens when people get a dog. Bringing a puppy into your life together should be something that brings you together, so discuss the big four issues and do a little reading before you start on what will be a great experience.

 

An Important Step

 

Smiling young woman facing the camera holding her border collie.

April 2017 Syd and her 9 month pup Fen

 

Sydney has recently graduated from and become certified with the prestigious Karen Pryor Academy.

Dog training is an unregulated business with highly variable levels of education and training ability. Professional certification from schools like the Karen Pryor Academy and the work of associations like the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and the Society of Veterinary Behaviour Technicians are moving our industry closer to becoming a self regulating profession. Sydney has taken a big step in continuing education that will benefit her clients and people using Ultimate Puppy.

Congratulations Syd!

Victorious Vet Visits

Veterinarian listening to puppy's heartbeat

The veterinarian we choose should be considered a ‘partner’ in care. We’re responsible for making sure that clinic staff can safely handle our dog without risk of being bitten. It’s up to us to ensure our dog is comfortable at the vet and can tolerate routine check-ups.

The stress surrounding a waiting room can be reduced by some simple work. A robust socialisation and handling strategy is key with a puppy. This should start with the breeder or foster family and carry on with you. Doing this gives your dog a sizable life-long advantage.

Be sure that you have plenty of delicious treats for your puppy when visiting the clinic. You puppy should be getting treats throughout the visit. Starting when you enter the clinic. Then carry on during the exam. On the table and once off the table. Try tossing some treats onto the scale for fun. You want a dog that is happy to climb on for weigh-in time.

Non-Treatment Social Visits

To prevent negative associations with the vet be sure and get into the clinic for strictly social visits with your puppy.  Non treatment visits will help when done a handful of times as your dog matures. Let your dog receive treats from the reception staff. Play a quick game of tug and then off you go. Keep it short and fun.

Fear-Free Vet Visit is an excellent initiative that was created by Doctor Marty Becker.  For some tips on fear free vet visits you can watch this short video by Doctor Becker.

Thank you to Dr. Paul McCutcheon and his staff of East York Animal Clinic & Holistic Centre in allowing us to photograph Fen’s vet clinic visit. Dr. McCutcheon was operating a Fear-Free clinic long before it became popular to do so.