Choose Your Reinforcement

I swear, some days with Silas come with big neon signs: LESSON. OVER HERE.

We took advantage of a rare cool day to run out to the park on Sunday. I was hoping to get some video footage to send to the behaviorist. I forgot Silas’s treats (that first year, when he wouldn’t eat outside ever, seems to have permanently taken them off of my park checklist), so all I had were toys. Silas didn’t want to work with my toys. The few snips of video we shot were mostly Silas ignoring me. Left to his own devices, Silas picked up a stick instead. Suddenly he was happy enough to do a few commands. Even better, stick was good enough for a game of “look at that!” with some people who walked past. One bark, then “Who cares about them? I have a stick!” (Of course you all know that sticks can be pretty dangerous for dogs. Use your judgment.)

Later on, back at home, I was trying to do some routine training exercises. I had Silas’s favorite toy. My husband was tidying up the house, bless him, and kept rattling bags of cookies. Silas was gone like a shot. This is my dog who almost never prefers a treat to a toy. “Oh,” rational brain said, “it’s twenty minutes before his dinner time. He’s starving.” I grabbed a handful of cookies and he was absolutely focused no matter what else was going on.

Moral of this story: if you’re training with positive reinforcement, it doesn’t always matter what your dog “always likes.” To get really great results, it matters what he likes at that moment.

3 thoughts on “Choose Your Reinforcement

  1. When Storm was young, she would never work for anything outside of the house including treats or toys. (Well except for ducks. But one can hardly carry one of those around.) As she got older she decided that working for treats was the way to go. Now they work like a charm. 🙂


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