Bribery is the spice of a dog’s life
October 30, 2007
You may have experienced it before: You come home from a long day of work tired, spent, and your dog has just chewed up your brand new $200 pair of shoes. You do the obvious: Grab the rolled up newspaper and angrily dole out punishment to your dog as a pair of sad, brown eyes look at you as if saying, “your shoes were meant to be chewed.”
In your dog’s mind, they were. Yet this type of punishment – a swat on the nose or buttocks with a newspaper – can be considered negative reinforcement. Don’t get me wrong; negative reinforcement is essential to your dog’s training – your dog must know its limitations. However, consistently practicing positive reinforcement with training, treats, and affection will help you build a successful relationship with your dog.
Follow these four simple steps to form a bond: create tangible rewards, build responsibility, use hand signals and play games.
1. Create tangible rewards
When it comes to most mammals, bribery is the spice of life. Dogs are no exception. No matter what breed they are, dogs aim selflessly to please their owners. If they’re not getting the attention they think they deserve, then the chewing/tearing/digging begins. One way to create a happy dog is to give it a job, such as retrieving the paper or taking out the trash, and bribe it along the way with plenty of doggy treats and affection. But how to get your dog to do what you want it to do?
First we assign jobs by setting goals. Provided that you have a safe enough space for you and your dog to attempt this, on or off leash, is to have it retrieve the morning paper without tearing it to pieces. The first thing dogs wants to do in the morning is investigate all the new and wonderful scents that were created overnight and then add their own to the mixture.
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Discourage that by showing your dog a treat before you open the front door. This shows your dog a tangible reward will come from doing something after you have lead her quickly inside without her having the paper.
Even if your dog stops to urinate along the way, praise her with affection and treats no matter what once inside. Do this because you do not want to confuse your dog after you’ve spent so much time housebreaking her – holding her bladder all night long was the goal for that training.
Over the course of a week, encourage your dog constantly to run back with you without stopping. Once that goal has been met, increase the complexity by now giving her the paper and repeating the process. Even if she makes it part or most of the way, treats and affection are important once back inside. It positively reinforces her actions.
Once your dog realizes that the paper is the first goal in the morning, let her attempt it by herself a few times while you hang back at the door. She’ll return, drop the paper, and wait for the treat because she knows this reward is coming. Allow this the first few times while always getting the paper yourself from where she’s dropped it and bringing it back inside. She’ll learn that the treat usually always comes after doing something and is always given to her in the house.
But this begs the question, should there always be treats?
No. The simple goals you set are highly important stages. When you familiarize your dog with these steps, you also create your own expectations of her. If she constantly drops the paper on the steps and bounds inside expecting a treat, do not give it to her. Show her the treat, put it away, get the paper yourself, but still praise her nonetheless. She’ll adapt quickly and will be “handing” you the paper in exchange for the treat in no time. Once your final goal has been met, your dog has the freedom now to explore her territory outside.
2. Build Responsibility
Giving your dog responsibilities around the house, like retrieving the paper, establishes your Alpha-dog status but also reaffirms your dog’s contributions to the pack, thus making her happy. The dog can happily do more than one task, just as taking out the trash.
To accomplish this, begin the same way. Always set small goals and reinforce them with doggy treats and praise.
The first step is to get the item, an empty cereal box for example, from outside the house to the trash can in one piece. Hold a doggy treat in hand, let your dog see it, and then give them the box to be thrown away. Take her outside and begin with the first goal- getting to the trash can. Your dog may think this is a new toy that’s hers and hers alone, but it isn’t.
As with the newspaper ultimately coming inside, the trash ultimately needs to be inside the can. First, get her to bring the box to the trash can and take the item from her while rewarding her with a treat and praise. This repeated step in the beginning shows your dog that getting to that point is the first goal. Also, constantly showing your dog that the box ends up in the container works wonders.
Next, if she’s tall enough, have her stand up to the trash can and repeat the process. Soon, she’ll want to nudge the box inside, knowing that that’s where the box needs to be.
Finally, after placing the box in her mouth several times while she stands at the can and having her drop it in, she’ll soon learn to bring the box from the house and put it into the can all by herself.
3. Use hand signals
Sit. Once again, small goals and positive reinforcement are paramount in developing any behavioral training. After your dog learns how to sit by hearing your vocal command, begin holding her treat in your closed fist, thumb-side facing her with the top of your fist held abdomen-high. Do this command while saying “sit.”
In no time at all, a silent communication will develop. This simple task will train your dog to focus on you and increase your bond to higher levels.
4. Play games
Reinforce this bond by playing games such as fetch.
Fetch is a game that, according to your dog, can last forever. One way to keep your dog focused on you while you have fun is to build the anticipation of the throw. Begin with a simple 1, 2, 3 count before each throw to build her anticipation of the event. This game reinforces her genetically inborn desire to run with the pack while she stealthily hunts her prey. Even though she may get her food every day like clockwork, she can still imagine that she’s wild and completely free. This positive reinforcement creates a happy, healthy dog.
Also try hide and seek.
While your dog may not be a bloodhound, any canine’s sense of smell still is exceptionally powerful. On rainy days, when playing fetch is out of the question, you can entertain your dog by developing her problem-solving skills and reinforcing her immediate sense of accomplishment by playing hide and seek with jerky treats.
Let your dog smell the pungent treat right before you close her in your bedroom. Then, tear the treat in bits and hide them around the house, all the while increasing the complexity of each “hunt.” Some treats may be in easy-to-find areas while others may rest in hidden areas – make her work for it, she’ll think it is fun. All the while, your dog can play doggy detective as she searches around the house for her tasty morsels.
These games are made, above all else, to have fun with your pet. Furthermore, all of these training techniques require time, effort, and patience. However, if you follow these simple steps your dog will amaze and impress not only you but your friends and family as well.
• Darren Jenkins, along with his dog Drusilla, lives in Carson City and teaches English part-time at Western Nevada College.