So, my intrepid pet parents, our last discussion (see The Dog: Con Man Or Opportunist?) revolved around Fido and his coy abilities to earn favors with his family in exchange for treats. So, let’s move onto how we can create a canine champion fit for the throne.
Newton’s Third Law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Why did I quote this in a discussion about canine behavior? Well, it may be a stretch, but let’s use this as a platform to employ good practices when we want to reward our furry children….and change the law to “…equal and equal reaction when it comes to positive behavior.”
First, think about what you dream about in your ideal canine companion…does he/she sit, speak, wait, backup, retrieve at your beckoning call (and you only have to ask one time!)? Do they let you know every single time that they need to go outdoors to eliminate? What other behaviors would you like Fido to accomplish with little effort from you?
So, let’s take just one activity…to keep it easy, let’s talk about eliminating outdoors. That’s the first hurdle of most puppy owners and sets the stage for learning more behaviors down the road. You give a vocal cue, or set a bell on the door knob, or teach him to come to you and speak…what’s your first reaction? It should be over joyous praise and immediate acknowledgement of the correct behavior from Fido and straight outdoors you go! Once he’s done, he gets immediate praise from you! Wow, we have just taught Fido that he can rely on us to allow him outdoors if he gives this one (correct) cue. And, what does he get out of the deal (besides an empty bladder and colon!)? He’s gets all that he needs from his family: love, attention, praise.
What about a treat, you ask? Well, we know “Food is Love” for many of us; it’s how we show affection, caring, and love for those around us, including our furry children. With all of our requests for a behavior from Fido (sit, stay, lay down, etc.), first ask:
Did he participate readily and without you begging for the action (how many times did you ask…more than once?)? Just as we get our desserts after we’ve eaten dinner (well, for most of us!), Fido should get his rewards after performing a task we’ve asked him to do. It sets up an expectation and respect from him to you that he worked for a treat, and earned it.
An important point: what is a treat? Let’s remove most human food from our table of choices, first. Then, a healthy (and economical!) idea came from a dear friend of mine: take a handful of Fido’s regular dog kibble, put it into a Ziploc bag and into the freezer. Offer a frozen piece of dog kibble (that means one piece!) as an easy go-to treat! You’ll be surprised at how ‘cool’ Fido thinks a simple temperature change is for a treat! You’ll save money on extra dog treats, and have easy access to a treat that’s hard to beat! And it’s not about the quantity of treats! No, it more about the how you present the treat, and that includes lots of love and praise.
Because, after all, in the end, we all (human, canine, feline, etc.) want more love, praise, and affections from those we respect and endear.
Dr. Jessica Boudreaux-Milligan is Web-DVM contributor and attending veterinarian at Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL.