Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.
Let’s take a look at some of the science behind building the value of a particular behavior. Say you have a job, and you go to work every day. Some jobs pay a monthly salary and others pay by the hour. In some manufacturing and sales companies, an employee is paid a small base salary and a bonus for each completed project. Now let’s take a look at the psychology behind each of these reinforcement strategies.
Working for a salary means receiving a lump sum each month regardless of how hard you work. You only need to be held to your own personal work ethic. That work ethic varies among individuals. Working by the hour adds a bit of motivation, doesn’t it? To some extent, you can control your paycheck. This might mean you would be inclined to work harder if you’re saving up for a new car. If your needs are met, you might cruise along, doing just enough to pay your basic bills.
Now, let’s take a look at small salary plus commission or pay upon completion of each finished product. People holding these jobs work long and hard to be paid. This is a powerful motivator. If you don’t do the work, you don’t eat, and the bills might go unpaid.
Now let’s look at the Dog’s Eye View of reinforcement strategies. A dog who has food available 24/7 can eat whenever he wants. This type of diet often can lead to an overweight dog who won’t listen, won’t come when called and is labeled lazy and stubborn. Let’s compare this to working for a salary. He only comes around when his dish is empty, and he’s tired of waiting until you get around to filling it again. Often these dogs are quite demanding or don’t care whether you’re there or not.
And then there’s the hourly wage earner. He has an uncanny ability to tell when it’s time for his meal. You have more of an advantage than the owner of a freely fed dog in that at least two times per day he knows where his paycheck comes from. He’s more likely to be engaging and offer the requested “sit” or “wait.”
And now take a look at the pay-as-you-produce comparison. We like to call it the Learn to Earn program for our dog training classes. This dog learns the value of being on hand to do the work when the work needs doing. Your dog is more willing to listen and respond because you have something he wants. You control the resources. You can take advantage of your status as the provider of the resources and use part of every meal as an opportunity to train and reinforce good behavior or compliance from your dog. Short training sessions throughout the day can be productive, so why not use mealtime? Why not take advantage of that few minutes to work on simple stationary cues such as “sit,” “come to heel,” “wait,” etc. Your dog gladly will stay focused and learn to earn part of his meals. Thus, you are investing in the future rate of this particular behavior. Positive reinforcement works for all of us, humans and dogs alike.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.