Are You Reinforcing Your Dog Adequately?
There are a zillion different trainers out there and every single one of them does something different. Regardless of training methods, any professional trainer that is even remotely worth considering, is a trainer that understands the value of reinforcement.
What does ‘reinforcing behaviour’ mean?
“Reinforcement can include anything that strengthens or increases a behaviour” (1)
By pure definition, reinforcement is anything that will strengthen a behaviour and increase the frequency and likelihood of it occurring again. In dog training this is absolutely critical! Why? Because if we want our dogs to do certain behaviours such as a recall, loose lead walk or obedience positions like a sit or drop, the way we go about doing that, is reinforcing our dogs when they do it.
If you want a dog that performs a behaviour on their own accord without bribery, the behaviour itself has to have value.
What is reinforcing to a dog?
Annoying answer: Anything and everything, depending on the dog. This is probably the most infuriating answer on the planet, because it doesn’t provide any clear direction. However, it is so important for pet parents to understand that reinforcement isn’t just food, or toys. It is can be anything that the dog finds valuable in that moment. For example, I recall my dog from playing with her friends at the beach, my dog comes back to me at lightning speed, and when I give my dog her release to go back to what she was doing, she doesn’t take the food in front of me, but darts quickly back to playing. In that specific moment, all my dog wanted to do is run around and play, she couldn’t care that I offered a liver treat, because in that moment the most valuable thing is play.
Pet parents often make the mistake of thinking that there is just one-clear-cut way to pay a dog for their efforts, however this is simply not the case and will often result in the dog not being reinforced adequately.
How can you reinforce your dog adequately?
By exceeding your dog’s expectations. When starting out with your training, you should aim to exceed your dog’s expectations for reward. In conjunction with this, it is important to understand what your dog’s biggest motivator is in that specific moment. At That Dog School we aim to have as many reinforcers as physically possible. The way we do this is by individually working on our toy drive, food drive and personal play. We also have a communication system that allows our dog to be released to the environment and other reinforcers.
Something to consider:
If you are currently training your dog and only using one specific type of reinforcer, we would challenge you to expand your reinforcement options to include anything and everything else. The more reinforcers you have available to you, the better you can motivate your dog. The better you can motivate your dog, the happier they are and the more willing they are to work with you. Don’t limit yourself or your dog!