Dog Training is Not Dog Bribing
Does your dog only become compliant once the refrigerator door opens up, or when you are in the kitchen? You ask your dog to sit or lay down and he looks at you like you are crazy and like he/she has better things to do and can’t be bothered. But once you strap on your treat bag, open the treat plastic bag or go to the cookie jar, your dog is sitting like a world class obedience champion. How do you transition from having your dog only sit and listen for doggie treats to listening and complying for the love of pleasing you and the activity itself?
Dog training is fun, and if it isn’t fun you are doing something wrong. What is your favorite hobby or sport? Do you like chess, sewing, running, yoga, meditation, playing cards, tennis or skiing? Why do you do these activities? This is not a rhetorical question, stop here and really think of why you do these things. Do you do them because someone offers you a cookie or a treat after you are done with them? No, you do them because of the inherent love for the sport, hobby or activity. The activity itself is what gives you great joy, fulfillment and satisfaction. Perhaps it is the Zen tranquility of losing yourself in the act of doing. Maybe it is the meditative aspect and free feeling where your mind can rest and you can just run or focus on hitting a ball. Or maybe you engage in some fun event with your friends, or can be alone and just breathe deeply or you enjoy pushing your body to work hard. You most likely thrive off the way you feel engaging in these activities and how it makes you feel so invigorated, alive and present!
All of these hobbies, sports and activities you do for love. No one has to convince, bribe, or reward you for you to do them. Sure, passion and love drive you. The activity itself is the reward! That is the same environment you, as your dog’s teacher, must cultivate. If you simply pull out your treat bag or you train your dog at the same hour each and every day, your dog makes the association and knows it is time for his treats. You must desensitize the treat bag and treats and vary everything up. Generalizing the training sessions to all areas of life and transitioning to something, other than food, that the dog loves to do such as: sniffing a tree, meeting another dog or person, digging, retrieving and going outside. All of these innate desires are rewarding and of high value to your pup. Work these environmental life rewards into your training sessions with or without your food treats. Also leave the treat bag at home. Put some treats in random places out of reach from your dog around the house so that they are easily and readily accessible and your dog thinks they are raining from the sky whenever he does something pleasing to you. Stop predicting the treats with the same time, day, clothing, treat bags, leash, collar…etc and start generalizing your dogs training to all walks of life.
Start deconditioning your dog and train at a variety of times, in a all different environments. If you leave treats in your pocket all day, every day, your pup never knows when he/she may get a treat and then are more compliant throughout the day. If you don’t walk over to the cookie jar, or start training every day at the same time, or strap your treat bag around your waist, you don’t cue the dog training signals that your pup should be compliant just for the time when you are near treats or during those specific situations.
Eventually you reward your dog with affection, a dog walk, a tug toy, a ball chase, a belly rub, being silly together….etc. ALL of these activities, not just the standard doggie cookie, are treats/rewards. Have your pup say “please” by sitting before you go for your walk, when you get to curbs, when you stop and before you walk through doors. Every time you stop, wait patiently for your pup to sit, making eye contact, and then continue your walk. Sitting will provide the reward of a continued walk, or maybe a sniff by the tree, or to romp around in the park with his/her pup friends. Having your dog work and say please for these types of rewards are helpful in cultivating the environment you want with your dog so they are not sitting only when you have a treat and/or are training them.
Training is a lifestyle, just like staying healthy and in shape requires a regular, consistent routine. If you only worked your mind and or physical body for one hour a day or even less, your muscles would atrophy and your brain power and intelligence would wither away. It is critical to practice your dog’s skills regularly to keep them sharp and their facilities in order daily. Imagine if you practiced tennis once a month, only read every few weeks or rarely took a long walk or challenged your body or mind? You would probably be unfulfilled, unhappy and you would not improve in whatever activity you were doing. Your dog is no different. The more you practice and incorporate dog training and these ideas into your life, the more this will become a lifestyle for your dog and will create great habits instead of only being compliant around the cookie jar or refrigerator.