Pretty much, almost everyday for the past nine years I find myself talking about rewards with someone. And truth be told, it’s always a fun conversation, and rewarding for me!
Some people instinctively get the basic premise, if you want something you need to give something. After all it’s how we as humans function on a base level; in the workplace, at home, as parents, when volunteering, etc. What you give is often a reward on some level. And a reward is only a reward if the one receiving it perceives it as such. It’s all about context isn’t it?. Touch, an expression, access to an environment, access to work, access to explore, play, laughter, food, comfort, safety, shelter, etc.
But there are some people who want for wantings sake without offering anything in return. It’s not that this is bad, it simple means there isn’t a full understanding yet.
I was in Helena recently giving a workshop on freestyle. This group of handlers is decades deep in the dog world, very experienced, savvy, and my good friends. We worked on behaviors, movement, flow and choreography. We also talked dog all day! During one of the breaks we started to discuss rewards.
One of the concerns was this old/new style of training where you put an amazing amount of pressure on the dog, (intimidation, discomfort, and fear) and when the dog folds you give them affection, the claim is that affection is the reward. One of the handlers commented that it’s no different from spouse/child abuse, I need to knock you around to show you who’s boss, apologize and then bring you flowers or a toy to show you my love. She said people go to jail for that, why do we allow it in the dog world? Good question!
One of the newer handlers was concerned that her dog liked treats too much and would want them all of the time. YES, that is the hope! If you have something so high value to your dog that they want it all of the time, you have a definite reward and can train to the moon and back! Food and toys are the obvious rewards in training, and they ROCK as long as they are kept valuable. I’ve worked with dogs who could care less about treats or toys. They are not easy dogs to work with unless you are crazy creative in your training and dig deep to find something that motivates that dog.
For me what is most important is that rewards are varied depending on the context.
For example, I use food rewards with my puppies, it’s so motivating, easy and available. I do LOTS of training when a new one comes to my home, so using their meals and treats is kind of a given. I also build object focus with toys, it works well for me with performance dogs. Food and objects are staples in my household and business. But when I am gardening, some of the cool rewards are playing with water/hose, going from the front garden to the compost pile, digging in the dirt, or access to the garden shed.