When it is not rewarding
It should be rewarding for the dog, which means it should always be pleasure. But careless and sloppy delivery can quickly diminish the value for the dog. Dogs can easily be aroused by the anticipation of chasing and eating, but we should not equate that anticipation as one of pleasure as it may be an instinctive response, to movement as an example. Dogs often respond to flies and insects, but this does not mean they “like” flies or find chasing them rewarding.
- Not paying attention to the dog when you deliver. That turn away, or momentary switch-off reduces the value to the dog.
- Careless lobbing of food, chucking it to the ground, throwing without clear preparation and expecting the dog to search is just plain RUDE!
- Expecting the dog to do the collecting effort. The food is offered but the dog needs to stretch, reach or take a step, every time. A little extra effort from the person goes a long way.
- Rushed or hurried delivery can diminish its value if the person is only focussed on the behaviour they are teaching.
- Tugging: When the dog is put into conflict with the person. Some challenge can be beneficial but not the extreme that causes vocalisation, headshaking, feet placed against the person. Neither should the person lift the dog off the ground, be over violent and use excessive strength. The game should equal that of a sibling of the same age and ability.
- Hard chasing: Occasionally this type of run-down can exhilarate the dog, but repetitively it is exhausting and the effort required may outweigh the pleasure enjoyed.
- Chasing for collies: this is unlikely to be pleasurable for sheepdog and collies. There skills are designed to prevent escape, by blocking exit options. This may be in movement from side to side. If they need to chase down their stock it is an indication they are failing in their task. An occasional escapee would keep them alert.
Contact and Social Approval
Fussing a dog can be both pleasurable and irritating at the same time. The dog may receive pleasure from the social approval, focus and contact from a valued person, but find the coat ruffling and disturbance very irritating. Similar conflict can occur with hugging, where the dog may find the nature of being captured or such tight close proximity discomforting.
- What is pleasure for you may not be to the dog, so we need to learn to use the hands to explore:
Where on the dog’s body they like the tactile contact: under the chin, over the top of the hips, round the belly.
What degree or amount of contact: the full palm of the hand, just the finger tips, one finger.
What motion: tumble cycle in a washing machine, one-nail scratch, long slow stroke
- Dogs often seek those magic hands to reach the areas they cannot, and do the things that they can’t do for themselves.
- Seek evidence that the service you are offering is desired, limit this to 3-5 seconds and then remove your hands, only slightly. The sensation should stop, but the hands still be clearly available. The dog should show that they want the service, tactile contact, by an approaching behaviour or response. Most baby puppies from about 5 weeks old can work out how to make that magic hand re-commence affection.
- You need to be clear that when the hands are busy, they are busy and not available (the treat pot is in the fridge), but when you have the open gesture, a desired service is available.
- Do not presume to surge into the dog with touch that is not sought. (I think the folk that assume everyone has a desire to be hugged often miss this point, the gesture to “do you want a hug” should be clearly given, and then if responded to the hug is consensual. More than once I have had to block an incoming hug.)
Affection and social approval comes in many, many varieties and flavours. Just because the dog enjoys belly rubs when lying at your side on the sofa, does not make it effective reinforcement for heelwork or jumping. Reinforcers are often context specific.
Whether the consequence is a reward, or reinforcement, clear evidence should be observed. We should never assume a dog “likes” something unless they seek it.
A dog may appear to like A because it allows access to B. If B is not forthcoming, or become unreliable the response to appearing to like A will reduce. An example of this may be a harness, or type of collar or muzzle that the dog appears to like (A), because it is followed by an activity of high pleasure: going for a walk.