I’ve written before on the topic of why you should consider not phasing out treats and under which circumstances it is ok. (Your Dog’s Paycheck) I’m not addressing that today. Today I want you to consider when and how you deliver rewards. I have SO many clients who want nothing more than to eliminate the entire reward (which is a thing I don’t believe in). They don’t even notice that they’re doing it. They’ll ask their dog to do something new, they might even lure their dog into the new behavior, then they don’t pay out. WHAT is that about? Or they’ll ask their dog for some new thing, maybe in a new environment, and they’ll forget to reward altogether. WHAT?! No.
So today we are discussing when you need to reward MORE. Any time you have increased Distance, Distraction, or Duration, reward more. If you’ve changed location, increase your reward rate. If you are teaching a new thing, increase rewards! I have clients who bring their dogs to the agility park for the first time (Yay exciting/distracting/maybe scary!) and expect their dogs to focus on them without rewards for their focus, for their work, or for their efforts. Other dogs have been here many, many times, but lack confidence or dedication. Our dogs need reinforcement (POSITIVE AND COPIOUS) to continue the behaviors we desire.
So if your dog is in a new place and they can’t seem to Sit on cue, or even look at you…never hesitate to back up. Don’t worry if your dog needs a little higher rate of reward today. Don’t worry if you need cheese (hotdogs, chicken, salmon treat) instead of kibble today. You can worry if you ALWAYS need the more valuable reward, but don’t be concerned about the little setbacks. Dogs have bad days too. Sometimes focusing is harder to do. Sometimes your dog is a little more afraid of a challenging new behavior. And it’s ok to use more valuable rewards or more frequent rewards until your dog is focused, calm, and confident in his job. Wouldn’t it be great if your boss treated you that way? And he’s supposed to be your best friend…not your employee.
As I try to remind everyone, myself included, it is ok to err on the side of kindness.