Dog's Eye View: The payoff

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When asked why he robbed banks, a notorious bank robber often was quoted as saying, “because that’s where the money is.”

I happened to think of this while watching our neighbor’s cat walk up and down our driveway bordered by large rocks, hunting for field mice.

He has come back every day with great hunting success. This location has become a big payoff place for him. It’s kind of his “mouse bank."

Dog's Eye View

This weekly column about dog training publishes on Fridays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

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Sandra Kruczek

When we’re coaching students on how teach their dog to get into his kennel crate or go lie down on his soft mat/dog bed, we ask the students to toss lots of treats, one at a time, in rapid fire succession directly into the crate or onto the mat when the dog is actually in his crate or lying on the mat.

This has the effect of giving their dog a “jackpot” or a really yummy “payoff."

The key is that the dog is in the final target location when the treats come forth. You’ve taught him that the crate and mat have value.

We use the term “target” to reflect how the dog can see where to go and that when he gets there, he gets a reward. This type of training is fun for the owner and the dog and it’s usually quickly understood by the dog.

The concept of reinforcing a specific behavior with a jackpot is actually pretty simple.

Dogs are more likely to repeat a behavior that has a positive consequence. I use the term positive as it relates to adding something (treats, toys, etc.) that is pleasing to the dog.

Often just praise and petting is acceptable to a dog under general circumstances. But deliver a bunch of “knock out” little pieces of meat or cheese when your dog runs to his mat near the door when the doorbell rings and you might be surprised at how quickly he catches on that this behavior and this location have a great payoff. Just see if he’ll try to get this doggie food bank to pay dividends again when the doorbell rings.

When my dog Stuart was young, he was wild when the doorbell rang. I had to teach him what I wanted him to do rather than race me to the door, barking and lunging. So I placed his crate near the door and rang the doorbell myself (since I could repeat the training process over and over) and tossed treats into his crate after he got in.

Ultimately, he caught on that when the doorbell rang, he was highly reinforced with the best treats inside his crate.

One day when I was gone, my husband was outside and didn’t notice that a friend had come to the house, rang the doorbell and thinking that no one was there, drove away. When my husband came back inside, he couldn’t find Stuart. He ultimately located him in his crate next to the front door, waiting patiently for his treat.

To this day, I practice this valuable exercise frequently.

Dr. Ian Dunbar, a well known veterinarian and behaviorist, once said that the people in America raced to California in the 1848 gold rush because that’s where the gold was. They didn’t race to New York! The prospect of a jackpot kept them going back for a long time.

Sandra Kruczek is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer at Total Teamwork Training for more than 25 years and can be contacted at www.totalteamworktraining.com.

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