We constantly want our dogs to do stuff for us. And that is not really a problem. One could argue that any relationship is to a greater extent built on what the individuals in the relationship do for one another. While, of course, our relationship with our dog(s) is precious, I am not saying that it is or should be equated to relationship we have with other people.
Then again, our relationship with our dogs can easily gravitate between us wanting something from them because it pleases us- I am thinking here of how much we love to have Deuce join us on the sofa every evening instead of “retiring” to his crate early in the evening. Yes, Deuce and I are the early-rises in the family so I guess it makes sense that he wants to retire early! LOL.
Or the times where we do know better and we need our dogs to do something right then and now because their safety or the safety of others might be at stake.
So again, the problem is not in the “asking” or in the wanting- or even in having the expectation of the dog complying over and over again with our requests.
The problem lies in not understanding how to best use reinforcers (what the dog wants a given moment or would work for).
There are many qualities to any reinforcer. I will mention a few and expand on some.
- What kind of reinforcer are we offering? Here again we can argue that it is not only what specifically it is such as: food, play, quiet time as social interaction, access to other dogs, a good sniff, etc. But is it the “appropriate” reinforcer for the behavior?
- The immediacy in producing the goody.
- The relationship between “counts” of behavior and the times these are reinforced. This is called a schedule of reinforcement. Depending on the schedule what the results in “correct” answers.
- The how the reinforcer is being delivered and advanced technique that can really up the game in getting more of what we want from our pup, etc.
If we are asking our dogs to do something that, for the most part, is considered difficult for the dog to do mainly because there are other competing reinforcers at the moment we must show up and offer “gold”. Otherwise we are fooling ourselves that our dog will be interested in complying.
And please remember…DOGS DO NOT WANT TO PLEASE US! What they want is what they want.
If pleasing us produces something the dog wants, guess what? The dog would continue to do it. It is that simple, yet that powerful. This is your first tip to success in having your dog comply with you.
Time and time again I have clients tell me sometimes frustrated, and always disappointed that there dogs are not minding them. Once they understand how to use reinforcers (yes there is a science to it folks!), their dogs become much more interested in them. And everybody is happy.
To give you a specific example: I am working with this client who by any standard has more knowledge and interest in working with her dog than the average pet parent. Her dog is awesome! I want this dog. Now, her awesome dog is also an adolescent who on top of it all has not been neutered. Yep, two levels of complications here for my distressed client.
She tells me she needs to work on recall (come when called) ASAP. So we get busy. I learn on the spot that her dog really likes to tug; didn’t I tell you that her dog is awesome?
I begin to tug with him and yes, he is a beautiful tugger. We get to work with tug and recall.
First on line then off line. Now my happier client has something else up her sleeve to offer her dog if he is really not interested in food. Even the food mongers also reach their limit into how much food they can eat.
A few minutes into the dog working with me and I have a dog that is doing constant check in just wondering when I will ask him to run to me to take the tug for us to play.
The check-in becomes so predictable that we are laughing.
Another example in how to work with changing how a dog feels, that is the EMOTIONAL aspect of the dog, is in us being able to pair something so incredible-worth-while that it will trump the fear the dog is experiencing when faced with something “scary”. Here our only -yet hugely important concern is to PAIR or ASSOCIATE the positive item with the non-positive or scary stimulus. So far, that appears easy right? Show something “good” that the dog wants and viola! You are changing the association. But not so fast… the devil is in the details.
Once again, if the scary thing is too big (as in really, really scary) it most likely will trump even the most delicious morsel. So understanding how to set this up is really important to reach success and be fair to the dog. Timing both events is also crucial because when we are talking about associations we want the scary thing to always be paired with lovely powerful stuff for the dog.
So, my suggestions in ways to use reinforcers (and establish good “pairings”) are below:
1. The easy part: When you want your dog to do something for you, don’t just ask mindlessly and with expectation that he “should” (or else…) but really think if what you offering at that moment is really what your dog wants there and then. Expanded on pt. 4 below.
2. Learn all the fantastic things your dog loves. Write them down! And become very diligent in producing all these amazing gold nuggets to your advantage. Play around, experiment, take note of success and keep practicing.
3. If you are working with emotional stuff (fear, aggression, anxiety of any sort) please hire someone with experience and that commits to using the science of animal learning (get some referrals- it never hurts) to help you through the process. Once you understand this you should be able to carry on some of the work on your own.
4. You have heard of the saying – and I am paraphrasing here: “I want to be the person my dog thinks I am.” So, if you are so nice to your dog that he thinks you are awesome that is terrific! Continue then to be really generous with your dog. Being really generous with your pup implies for me being aware of what they need and want too, not only what we want. Stop. Think. Evaluate. Give what is wanted at that moment. And then, ask with abandonment.