Pleasure for the dog?

by | Jul 30, 2019

Training through positive reinforcement is much, much more than giving a treat. I want you to ask yourself:

“How much pleasure is the dog getting”?

Eating can be a pleasurable process or mere fuel. If you find yourself eating and not noticing what you put in your mouth then the pleasure of eating has passed you by.

In training I see the click-and-dump process missing out on the central component of this reinforcement actually being rewarding for the dog. This may mean giving something extra beside food – a connection for a few seconds, verbal happiness, a small chase, a catch. Activity and interaction are often craved by the dog when food alone seems to be a put down. No wonder we find some dogs who find they “don’t like food” when it comes to training.

We can see the same question “is the dog getting pleasure from this” with regard to play intended to serve as reinforcement. The games bring arousal to the associated behaviours, but at the same time conflict. Tugging that gets so rough and vocal and looks more like basic survival rather than a shared pleasure. If you are not enjoying it I am damn sure the dog won’t be.

I see dogs “learning impulse control” with the lunge whip only able stand and squeal because they are beyond frustration. Poor timing and a misunderstanding of how to employ reinforcement completely strips any pleasure the dog may have found in a simple chase and carry.

When play is used as a reinforcer we should always be aware that the game can also bring high levels of stress, conflict and loss of confidence. We present the dog with stimuli they are forced to respond to by their genetic heritance but then face them with minimal success, repetitively. It looks like the dog version of a hamster in a wheel. Chase, chase, bite, bite, grip, give it up.

With regular repetition of a specific reinforcer pattern: chasing, grabbing, eating, the anticipation of that pattern begins to strongly affect the associated behaviour. It weaves into the behaviour and can be hard to change. If the reinforcer represents only pleasure then that would be of benefit to the dog, the behaviour becomes one of pleasure to perform. But if the behaviour is woven with an anticipation of conflict and loss then we see the behaviour, aroused, but full of conflict and extremes. It often looks frenetic. I cannot see that is of benefit to any dog.

For every game, for every point where you control delivery of reinforcement, just keep asking whether you see enjoyment and pleasure or habitual response and conflict?

Key Reading

The Spaces Between

At the heart of learner-centred education, the teacher acts as a guide whose role is to elicit rather than to impart, and learners quickly become empowered and equipped to transfer their knowledge and skills to new scenarios.

In praise of naughty dogs

.. a desire for solutions to problems that weren’t problems until someone else outside of the relationship suggested they were.

50 years a student of sheepdogs

In recognition of my half-century of being a student of collies I want to celebrate their skills as masters of my learning.

Why add fun?

When an activity gives intrinsic pleasure we do not need to add fun.

No room for mechanics

If your ambition is to have good mechanics in communication to animals then you may find yourself blocked into a tight corner

The Experienced Dog

Knowing your dog has receive sufficient preparation does not mean every eventuality, but a range of different conditions so that when the unexpected happens they will draw on their skills and solve the issue.

The Value of Experience

The non-experienced, or current generation of imposters, have attended a course, read a book, got a certificate and have yet to gain experience to deepen their knowledge or understanding of the subject, protocol, method …

Chasm opening up?

The more I see “sit, down, come, stay heel” as the essential basics the more I am moving further away from the general view of living with dogs.

Normal is always changing

What was normal in training 20 or 40 years ago is not the same today. There are folk persistently maintaining the normal of 1976, but fortunately there are enough folk with a deeper understanding of the processes that have moved normal forwards.

Shaping by rewards

When I see a dog showing a behaviour that is heading towards potential conflict, my first question is “what rewards are available?”

Top Training

Evidence of learning

When we use the words “teach” or “train” child, person or dog, the operative term implies that the process is under the ownership of the teacher or trainer. What your teacher thinks you have learned may not be what you actually learned.

One dog watching

The other dog working
or ….how to train the spectators to quietly rest and watch whilst you work, play, teach a single member of the group

The Power of Passive Learning

Active learning: the learner takes active choice of what to do, how to respond, is attentive and making conscious effort
Passive learning: little conscious effort, reward is delivered for minimum effort.

A Day of Learning

A no-training day does not mean he gets a lazy day lying idly in the sun. Learning is still happening and this is significant and important for his development.

Surprising Puppy

Surprising Puppy. With obnoxious moments. After introducing the obnoxious puppy as a youngster I am knocked over by the Delightful Young Man he is turning into……

Obnoxious Puppy

The delight of your new puppy is probably going to last a few weeks, maybe four if you are lucky. When 12 weeks old hits, and you will feel a slam, the Delight is going to demonstrate ungrateful, obnoxious traits.


Preparing before you train and the final check list

More than words

We expect our dogs to understand the meaning of words and signals, but if you have ever worked with computers you will know that what you say doesn’t always turn into an actionable response.

Not all lures contain food

“the direct use of the reinforcer to elicit the behaviour”
This should always be foremost in our mind, in that many alternatives lures are available.

Remote lures

Lures at a distance, separated from hands, pockets . Using reward stations, patterns, containers


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

News on courses, articles and stuff you don't want to miss.