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

What Words Conceal

The language across all kinds of media paints a picture of dogs and our relationships with them.

Location is Their Cue

We begin teaching the dog to go to a target, such as a mat or platform and in this process our focus is on the outcome – the dog can place feet on the object or settle down. But at the same time this learning is happening the dog is also noting the location: where this is happening in this room, in the house, relative to the food-machine (you).

Cue Seeking is Connection

Connection is very individual and to be authentic we have to observe, slow down, understand our dogs and meet them where they are.

The Right Bed in the Right Spot

Resting and sleeping are not necessarily the same state. Good sleep where we feel safe and comfortable is important for us all.

Play Health Check

When we look at play or food delivery as an ACTIVITY we share the same mindset as the dog: is there pleasure to be experienced?

Since the Dawn of Dog Training

The old joke reminds us that the only thing dog trainers can agree on is that their training method in the best one. It becomes increasingly difficult to know which method is “right” and whether it will suit the dog, the situation and trainer’s skills.

Back to Basics?

The word “basic” is often derided as synonymous with “shallow,” but in its origins it is the very opposite: foundational, profound, supportive.

The Whole of The Dog

We cannot divide training into compartments of fast recalls, or sit for greeting, or loose leads as everything we ask of the dogs is interrelated.

Not Today and Not for My Sheepdogs

Standard protocols of extinction, impulse control, counterconditioning are quickly grabbed off the shelf as satisfactory solutions. These solutions are unlikely to help your collie, your sheepdog as the focus is heavily on suppression of who they are and why they live.

Do you see what I see

Doing better is the reward from doing the work. This work needs to be the right work at the right time with the right intent done in the right way.

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


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