When Can I Stop Using All This Food?
One of the more popular questions when we talk about using food as reinforcement for your dog’s behaviors is, “When can I stop rewarding my dog?” Funny, I don’t recall ever being asked , “When can I stop scolding my dog? When can I stop pulling on the leash?” Perhaps this is in part due to society and culture. We are quick to point out problems & errors and to take punitive actions as a first response. We seem to be a bit slower to point out the good and reward for it.
With dog training, if we spot our dogs doing “good” behaviors and reinforce those “good” behaviors, we discover that our dogs typically are pretty good. We also find that “training” isn’t as hard and cumbersome as we thought.
So when can we stop doing all this reinforcing?
Well…. If today is pay day at work and your bank account didn’t register a new direct deposit, you would likely go to your boss and ask about it. Let’s imagine that conversation:
You: Hi Alan! My paycheck didn’t arrive today. Do you know what’s going on with payroll? Is there a delay?
Your Boss: Ahhh yeah. I was meaning to talk with you about that. You’re a real team player for us. I love what you’re doing! The customers are happy. The team is happy. I just figured with all that success, what’s a paycheck really? What really matters is that you are succeeding – we’re succeeding – and everyone is happy. Right?”
You: Stunned into silence at this new revelation.
What do you think about this conversation? If this were me, I'd be thinking that I need to find a new job ASAP!
You work for money. Money, in this case, is a very important reinforcement. You may be fortunate enough to love what you do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you would do it for free, every day. In fact, you and I always work for reinforcement - whether it’s in our jobs or our personal lives. Now, that reinforcement comes in many different shapes and sizes depending upon all sorts of things. But the bottom line is that we are always behaving in a way that lets us earn what we want.
Your dog works for reinforcement too. Like you, he likely needs different types of reinforcement in different situations: food, ball, tug, belly rubs, etc. You may find that over time and repetition, you are able to use different reinforcements. The key is to always reinforce the behaviors you want to see repeated.
Don't forget that something is a reinforcement for your dog, only if your dog really wants it. Your dog has to find the reinforcement you are giving him… Reinforcing!
So the next time you think about how much longer you need to reinforce your dog's behavior, ask yourself how much longer your employer needs to pay you!