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  • Writer's pictureTaryn Blyth

Build that Reinforcement History!

Behaviour that is reinforced grows stronger. That's pretty much what we base training and behaviour modification on as positive reinforcement trainers. Yet, this true and simple fact is something which is so hard for many people to embrace, despite the deluge of education coming from the scientific dog training community.

There are always excuses: My dog should just listen because I say so.... it's a pain to have to always remember to take food on walks.... my dog just wants to please me, that's his reward.... all this food will make my dog fat... and on and on.... 😑

The reality is that positive reinforcement works. If you consistently reinforce behaviour you want (and use intelligent management to prevent behaviour you don't want) it will become strong and reliable.

The other day we were hiking and came across a young pigeon who was obviously still a bit clueless and tired from the cold front that had hit the Cape (unusual for the middle of summer). This pigeon came strolling along the path in front of us, inches from Rosie and Cruz who immediately saw him and pricked their ears. I called them with my normal happy recall voice and they literally spun around without hesitation and came running for their reward. I have to say that we were pretty impressed. They had every opportunity to chase that pigeon and it must have been so tempting to do so (especially as a team!), but they didn't hesitate in their recall instead.

This is not because I'm a really skilled trainer or my dogs "respect" me or any magical nonsense - it is simply because I ALWAYS have treats with me and ALWAYS reinforce recall - every little mundane, ordinary recall in every situation, no matter how easy and no matter what else is going on around me. We like our dogs to be able to walk off lead most of the time for many reasons BUT this means they HAVE to have stellar recall - mainly for their own safety, but also to ensure the public feels safe and not terrified by two Rottweilers approaching them or their dogs. It's not negotiable.

Positive reinforcement works. Recall is one of my number one behaviours that needs to be solid - so of course I need to reinforce it with something the dogs like.

Remembering to take treats with on walks is no different to remembering your sun hat, dogs' leads, phone or locking the house before you leave. It's a habit that one simply has to get into. It's really not a hardship! 😉

Photo: mid - recall on Table Mountain. Clearly anticipating food!😄


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