Are You Rewarding Your Dog Or Yourself?

When rewarding your dog, don’t confuse your fun with the dog’s fun. Most dogs love to be petted, but not in every context and not in all ways. Most people like petting their dogs, but some don’t notice that their dogs don’t like being pat-patted on top of the head as reinforcement for coming when called.

Observe your dog carefully; if he backs away from you when you reach to pet him, pay attention! He’s telling you he doesn’t want to be petted – and that if you persist, you are actually punishing the behavior you meant to reward! I’ve seen this scenario repeated literally hundreds (thousands?) of times, when a person calls their dog away from something really tempting – say, for example, another dog who is getting food. The dog leaves a handful of liver, comes back to his owner… and the owner happily and enthusiastically pats the dog on the head. The person feels so good and is so happy – “Good dog!” And the dog turns his head away and hates it!

If a dog turns and walks away, that’s invaluable information: he doesn’t like what you did. Even if he just closes his mouth and/or turns his face away, pay attention. That could be your dog telling you, “Um, I really don’t like this.”

Get in the habit of carefully observing your dog’s response to your rewards, but also observe his response to training overall. Does he quickly engage with you any time you initiate a training session? Or does he dodge your gaze and wander off when he hears you call, or sees you gathering your training equipment? If he responds with the latter, you need to rethink your sessions.

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