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Tuesday Training Byte: What behaviors are you rewarding?

Left to their own, animals will naturally repeat anything that was pleasurable. For example, I put out some birdseed on a few fence posts so that the larger birds wouldn't crowd out the smaller birds. Once my horse discovered that tasty treat, now in the mornings as soon as he is let out of the stable, he makes a bee-line straight for the bird seed. If your dog found a yummy rotisserie chicken carcass in your kitchen trash, you can better believe he will get in to it again on the chance he will get lucky. Knowing that, we have to make sure that the rewards we give the dog for doing something that we want will be rewarding enough that our pup will be that eager to do it again. For instance if your dog bolted out the door and caught a squirrel, chances are that was so rewarding your dog will bolt the door at the next opportunity. To begin, be sure to make a big deal out of even a minor accomplishment by praising lavishly, giving high-value treats, and maybe a brief play session. A while back I was teaching my pup to retrieve a bumper out of the pond. We did a few retrieves on the shore first and got the pup excited. Then I tossed it a short way out just far enough that the pup could get it and still tough bottom. As he went into the water, the cheering began. I jumped up with my arms in the air yelling YAY Good Boy! as he came back to me with the bumper. The next time we practiced water retrieves, he was so excited to go into the water after the bumper. The trick is to make sure that your reward is better than the reward that nature might provide for doing their own thing, and do your best to prevent those naughty mishaps mentioned earlier, because dogs tend to have long memories. Happy training!

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