Importance of Rewards

Why start here?


Quite simply because reward and reinforcement have the biggest influence upon behaviour.


Our focus tends to be on the Antecedent, what comes before the behaviour, in particular commands and cues. "Why doesn't the dog do what I say?" is a common question and an example of this. Other phrases that give a clue to our mindset have slipped into our vocabulary "one word and the dog does what he is told" is an example.


Dogs and people need to seek rewards to survive. If you have been travelling between or queing at supermarkets, then you have been seeking your reward of food. Food equals safety and survival. If you are too unwell or depressed to travel or organise others (seeking) to get your food, you may not survive. A desire to seek out rewards can equate to mental and physical health.


Rewards cause us to eat, drink, mate/breed and reproduce - survival.



Anything we consider a reward should fulfill the above criteria - would you put these in any particular order?


Let's consider the day care environment, our goal is to make day care as rewarding as possible for all the dogs that attend. I would begin with approach. If the dog isn't moving forward into the day care environment then I would say that reward is not being experienced by that dog, at that time, in that setting. Read those last three again - not being experienced by that dog, at that time, in that setting. This is important because just like us dogs will change their responses throughout the day. Before we conclude that a dog does 'not like day care' we may need to assess whether they retreat from the whole experience, or whether it is certain dogs, combinations of dogs, certain times of day, the weather, an activity etc. With careful management, it may be possible to resolve these situations without removing the dog completely.


Ideally our day care dogs would constantly be seeking rewards throughout the day, this is a normal response. If they aren't then we consider: health and age, temperament, social skills, diet, learning history, breed tendencies. If you aren't aware of, or in control of the rewards they are finding then behaviours that cause problems for the dog, staff, other dogs or the environment, may arise. Rewards promote learning - dogs are always learning. If you are in the presence of a dog, you are always in the role of teacher. As above if you aren't aware of what the dog is learning and what you are teaching then problems can be arise.


Discussion: What would you like the day care dog to learn? Some examples - move away when food is present

understand when food is available or unavailable take food from hands in a safe manner

Once we know what we want the dog to learn we can begin to plan activities

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