What Are You Really Rewarding?

I am a big proponent of reward based training of every animal. As many people know, I am a trainer at heart. I love strengthening the bond I have with my dogs through training. They love to work. And virtually everything we do with our dogs is a teaching moment.

As a veterinarian, I regularly see people that use reward based training, but are not rewarding what they intended. Huh? How could that be? It’s very simple really. In training, timing is everything.

An example I run across regularly is housetraining puppies by rewarding them with a treat when they come back inside. In doing so, the owner is rewarding the puppy for returning to the house, not for “pottying” outside. To truly reward the dog for doing its duty outside, a person needs to accompany the puppy outside every time and give the treat or toy as soon as he/she completes the task at hand.

Why bother doing this as puppies usually figure it out on their own? Many puppies will figure out that running back to the house will get them a delicious treat. So, in some cases, he/she will forget to finish up outside and that leads to accidents in the house.
What If your puppy has developed this habit already? When the puppy comes inside after not completing the necessary task, put the pup in its crate for ten minutes. Let it think about needing to potty. Give the puppy another opportunity outside, be sure to be there to reward if successful. If not successful, back to the crate and repeat.

It’s really not hard. With consistent, patient training any puppy can be trained. This is only one example. If your dog is not performing a task as you expect it should, re-evaluate how and when you are offering the reward.