As a reward-based training advocates, we see remarkable transformations in canine behavior by tapping into each dog’s top motivator(s). We find it is much easier to determine what is expected of your dog in troublesome situations and train an acceptable behavior than to punish a naughty act. It makes perfect sense, good is behavior is rewarded, it happens more frequently. However, it is important to think about the exact behavior you are rewarding. Before you toss that ball, walk out the front door, place a food bowl on the floor or deliver a treat; consider the behavior you reinforcing and if you want to see it again.
Another common pitfall is using food around other dogs. We encourage our clients to use life rewards to reinforce good behavior throughout the day but do find treats are an easy reward to carry on leash walks. We never recommend taking them into a park or other area where dogs are interacting off-leash. It can encourage other dogs to jump on you, or even worse, a dog fight. Never use a treat to get your dog away from another dog. Food is a very high value resource and could easily cause a serious fight resulting in injury to human and dogs. We use a rule of five feet between two dogs at all times to assure there’s no resource guarding over a morsel in one of our client’s hands. If you are practicing leash walking and have treats, tuck them into your pocket when a dog is approaching. Use the greeting as a reward for “sit” (if your dog loves other dogs) and prevent any nastiness.
Lastly, bribery gives positive trainers a bad reputation. As soon as your dog has practiced a behavior a few times (I said a few, not once) hide the reward until AFTER he or she has responded. Luring new behaviors is a great way to start but if tasty treats are always in your hand when you give instruction, your dog will completely miss you are saying .
Reward-based training is fun for dogs and humans and truly encourages good behavior. Just make sure to reward the right behaviors and your dog will continue to progress with every training session.
The above picture is compliments of Sarah Eng, we love her dog Agnes!