When Can I Stop Rewarding My Dog?

“When I can I stop rewarding my dog for doing the correct behavior?” 

This is one of the top three questions I get from my students. Really, what these people are asking is either, “When can I stop training my dog?” or, “When can I start punishing my dog?” 

For some reason, people take offense when they think their dog is doing the “right” thing for a tangible reward, such as a paycheck, rather than for the intrinsic reward of obeying the master! 

It’s frustrating to me that people think of dogs in either a perpetually childish or subservient light, rather than as independent, sentient beings. Of course they need motivation to keep doing something! Especially if that something is in direct opposition to their natural canine inclinations.  

In this video, I’m practicing exchanging a high value reward for Mars’ meaty bone. Mars is a 17-month old Belgian Tervuren and he can be quiet possessive of his favorite things. We’ve worked for the past 15-months on making him more comfortable with me taking things away from him by trading favorable objects in such a way that the exchange is a win/win for him as shown in this video. Mars is much better about giving up good things now than he used to be, however, if you watch closely, you can see that he still is a bit tense about the trade. This is why we keep practicing. This is how I remind him of the relevance of my request. This is how he earns his paycheck, which continues to make his job (of following my requests) worthwhile.

Occasionally in life, I have to take something away from Mars and not give it back. I’d like that unpleasant experience to be a tiny percentage of our interactions where I approach and ask him to release a precious item to me. I am building a trust account. A general rule of thumb is to do at least 10 trades and returns for every time you’ll take something away and not give it back. 

So remember, practice makes (nearly) perfect. Training never ends, but if you are good about making many deposits into your dog’s trust account, you will indeed be able to make withdrawals, too. Just remember to keep depositing that paycheck so your relationship account doesn’t go bankrupt!