I've been doing lots of puppy 121's recently, now that we are slowly moving out of lockdown new puppy owners are keen to make up for lost time. One of the first things I explain to anyone who is training their puppy or older dog is that what gets reinforced gets repeated. This means whatever the puppy finds rewarding will be done again and again. When we are training puppies we often use food as their reinforcement but reinforcement can be come in lots of different forms; attention or affection including verbal or physical praise as well as things in the puppies environment like sniffing certain scents of chasing birds.
A classic behaviour that sometimes unknowingly gets rewarded is jumping up. Puppies like to greet us by jumping up and as they are so cute we often give them a fuss and lots of verbal praise when they do it. What we have to consider is that this is rewarding for the puppy so they will do it again and again. If we don't want them to jump up we need to try and make sure they are not getting rewarded for it. It's the same when a puppy steals a sock or tea towel, our instinct is to chase after them but the puppy is getting our attention as we chase them which is rewarding for them, so what gets rewarded gets repeated and they do it more and more, it becomes a great game!
Typically we might think food is the most rewarding thing in our dogs life but rewards come in lots of varieties. Max my Springer finds being up high reinforcing, if I let him he would sleep on the kitchen table as he likes being up high! He also loves any kind of water or muddy bog, so he gets muddy a lot!
As a dog trainer I'm always thinking about what reinforcement a puppy is getting from the behaviour they are performing, if its a behaviour I want them to do again I'll make sure its as rewarding as possible, I'll think about choosing their favourite food or throwing the food so they can chase it. If its a behaviour I'd like to reduce I'll think of ways to remove the reward.
If I have a puppy who steals socks, instead of chasing them round the house I'll encourage them to come to me and give them a reward for bringing the sock to me that way they learn to bring me things rather than steal them!
So what things is your puppy doing that it finds rewarding? What things do you want them to do more and how can you increase or change up the rewards they get for doing it for you?
I hope thats given you lots to think about!
Stay safe x