Posts Tagged ‘rewards’

Show me in chicken!

  What is a reward? To me, it’s chocolate and cauliflower and walking my chow chow, Special Dark. It is not riding a roller coaster or whip cream. We all have different ideas of rewards. Of course I have other rewards too, and other things I don’t consider rewards. I’m willing to bet that not everyone’s first instinct would be to name cauliflower as a reward! Maybe your idea of a reward is to ride a roller coaster or maybe you do like whip cream, and maybe you don’t like chocolate at all.

  You know what else? I’d rather have chocolate than cauliflower! Just because both are rewards to me doesn’t mean I’ll take either as a reward for any old task. If I’ve just come home from a long day at work, I’d rather reach for a chocolate bar than a cauliflower. If I’m watching an exciting hockey game and my husband calls me over for cauliflower, I probably won’t go. For my favorite chocolate bar? Maybe. To show me something cute Special just did? You bet! If I’m just reading a good book and he calls me over for a piece of cauliflower, I’ll go on over because I do love cauliflower!

  In my primate work, in any primate feeding study, the first order of business is to conduct a food preference test. It’s not enough to know that a monkey likes onions and bananas. We have to have a hierarchy: a monkey likes onions, but less than pineapples and likes both of those less than bananas. These tests are so important that they not only have to be referenced in any publication concerning feeding studies, but any feeding study conducted is designed based on the results of the food preference tests. So where does that leave our dogs?    

  Many people make the mistake of using something they deem as wonderful as a reward for their dogs. It has to be something your dog thinks is wonderful! For example, we typically think that dogs like steak, but not all dogs do! Conduct your own reward preference test! For example, part of Special’s hierarchy: he loves treats. All treats? Nope, of course not! He will not eat peanut butter. He loves liver treats, he adores smelly salmon treats more, but he loves chicken the most!

  Now, just as I will respond to cauliflower in some instances but not in others, your dog will respond to some rewards in some instances but not in others. Typically, the higher up a reward is on the hierarchy, the more powerful that reward is in a highly distracting environment.

  Take squirrel chasing: let’s say your dog loves peanut butter biscuits, loves liver more and loves cheese the most. Let’s say you can cue her into do a down/stay in your living room for three minutes and reward with just a peanut butter biscuit. It is highly unlikely that if you are on a walk with this same dog and you ask her for that same down/stay while she’s deeply involved in smelling a bush that the peanut butter biscuit will cut it. Remember you have to be the most interesting thing in your dog’s environment! It’s your job to have a reward ready that will trump the bush!

  Now let’s say you’re dog will hold a 30 second sit/stay because she knows after the release your next words will be “let’s go” and you head for a walk. It’s highly unlikely that if she has been smelling a tasty hamburger wrapper for the last 40 seconds of your walk and you say those same magic words: “let’s go,” that she will be just as thrilled to hear them as she was inside. The act of walking is a tremendous reward to her, but it will not trump the hamburger wrapper in this instance.   

  What about petting? Is petting a reward? Sure…to US, NOT our dogs! Our dogs learn to accept petting because they associate it with you: you give them food, you walk them, you give them treats, you take them for car rides– so they throw you a bone… you can pet them. (A great way for you to see this in action: next time your dog is smelling about at the dog food store, call them to you and then reach to pet them… watch them duck and pull away). Of course there are exceptions, some dogs do like petting, but even so, conduct an objective test—where does it fall on their hierarchy of rewards? (For more petting, see Patricia McConnell’s The Other End of the Leash.)

  I pet Special endlessly, I hug him endlessly. After I do, I reward him with something HE likes for putting up with me. I talk to him endlessly too! I often ask him if he realizes how proud I am when he walks down a crowded street and politely accepts petting from 10 kids surrounding him at once, or whether he realizes what an impact he has on our lives. I always imagine him saying “show me in chicken!” And I do show him in chicken. Because I know that’s a reward for him.


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