Does your dog not want to come back? Try rewarding them: Doggie pay scales and human value | Opinion

  Posted: 21.07.21 at 10:20 by Liz Cox RVN, MRes

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This may seem like a slightly odd title however all will become clear! I am quite often contacted by dog owners who are struggling to keep their young dog’s attention on them when they are out and about.

Basically this boils down to a recall issue – does your dog want to come back to be with you or is everything else in the park, on the beach, in the woods more interesting?

The simple answer to that question is YES! Everything else is more interesting because dogs like to:

1. Play with other dogs
2. Go exploring
3. Follow their noses

They do actually want to come back to you when they have finished with these things but for us, their human, it can be stressful, worrying and often we don’t have endless time to sit around waiting for our dog to finish their adventure and make their way back to us, so we need to keep them close (ish) to us – but we need to let them play too! It’s a fine balance.

It goes without saying that like humankind, all dogs are different – even within the same breed personality differences can account for very different behaviour.

For example, an anxious dog will have a preference to stick by their owner for safety and protection whereas a confident dog will not think twice about bounding over to a potential playmate or running off after a squirrel.

The importance of rewards

Now a quick question to you, my reader. Imagine this scenario: It’s the end of the working week, 4:30pm on Friday – you’ve done a great job this week, hit all your targets, supported your colleagues and even gone above and beyond and done some little extra things to help the business/your boss.

Your boss comes over to you and says ‘Hey, great job this week, well done!’ But that (not so little/important) thing you are expecting him to hand over, your pay packet, doesn’t materialise.

How do you feel? Are you going to put in as much effort next week? Are you going to go above and beyond? I know what my answer is!

It’s the same for our dogs – when they do what we want (not what they want) they are working for us and they need paying in the form of treats.

Ever wondered why dog trainers carry a pocket full of treats? It’s payment! We are constantly paying our dogs for the behaviour we want and the more you pay out the more motivated your dog is to do what you want and not what they want.

Not all rewards are equal

However, not all pay is equal is it? Let’s go back to my previous scenario at work and this time on Friday your boss gives you your pay packet and all it contains is a £5 note.

A fiver! I hear you cry... is that all? Do you feel as motivated to work so hard next week? I know what my answer is! But if that pay packet contained £500, well, I certainly would be happy and I’d definitely be back next week to put some effort in.

So if your dog is a confident personality that likes to follow their own agenda, you need to pay well e.g. chicken, hot dog, sausage, cheese… but find out what your dog’s kryptonite is because it can be different across the board (a good general rule of thumb is the smellier the better – when I first trained my pup for human value I used small bits of stilton cheese!)

Once your dog has cottoned on to the fact that you are a payer of high value rewards they will be much more motivated to do what you want and here is my suggestion for this month – the 'auto check-in'.

(To be honest this whole human-dog relationship thing is a massive topic and in next month’s article I will delve further into the topic of keeping your dog motivated to be with you when out and about (thereby helping with recall)).

The 'auto check-in'

Every time your dog voluntarily returns to your side (their choice not you calling them) reward them – pay them!

Notice if after doing this more frequently your dog starts to appear by your side a bit more.

When they do check in with you, don’t ask for any other behaviour (e.g. don’t ask for a sit otherwise we are rewarding that behaviour).

At this stage we want to reward them for just coming back to your side. You do need to be consistent with this – reward them every time they voluntarily come back. You are now reinforcing your value and the value in being with you.

Why do this? As your dog gets more and more familiar with you being the payer of great rewards then next time he thinks about galloping off to play with another dog and you call him back he’s more likely to come back to you more quickly than if you have nothing more than a pat on the head and a ‘good boy’ to tell him.

Disclaimer: If you are struggling with recall with your dog, please don’t think this is the solution – this is one of many exercises I teach to reinforce human value whilst working towards good recall. Recall is a complex thing to train and a multifaceted approach is required.

Liz Cox is a Registered Veterinary Nurse and has a Masters in Animal Behaviour and Welfare. She is a qualified scentwork trainer, having studied with Talking Dog's Scentwork and became a qualified puppy trainer with the School of Canine Science. She is the founder and head trainer of Dawlish-based dog training business The Dog Nose.

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