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Why we use rewards when we train

Imagine for a moment that you are a puppy. A good day for you would be pouncing on all your littermates, running around the woods chasing critters, rolling in deer poop, and barking at intruding animals or people to keep them away.

However, this is not what most Manhattan residents want in a dog. We want our dogs to be polite. We want them to quietly hang around the house. Whether we own Rottweilers or beagles or Yorkies, almost all of us expect them to fit comfortably into our busy, cosmopolitan lives. We expect them to welcome the food delivery guy as a friend, not an intruder. We expect them to stay out of the garbage. We expect them to recognize that deer poop is icky, because we think it is. We expect them not to pull on a leash, not to steal our chicken wings, and not to knock us over when we come home.

So what do we do about this? Certainly there is nothing wrong with our expectations, but everything we expect has to be taught, because none of our expectations come naturally to dogs. What FOLLOW MY LEAD teaches is how to introduce your dog to a different set of pleasures.

We use rewards because you want your dog to choose a different pathway to pleasure. A dog without training sees you as an impediment to his fun; a dog trained positively thinks of you as the source of his fun. Dogs trained with a variety of rewards love doing what you want because in your history together you have been the source of all things positive. They continue to learn over the course of their lives, which means that as your life changes, they are more resilient and adaptable to change.

Imagine a beautifully trained dog. This is a dog that runs to its owner when it’s called, walks calmly at the owner’s side on the way to the park, passes a trillion dogs on the street without barking or pulling, goes happily to its place at home, and thinks nothing of falling asleep on the floor while a carved turkey is sitting in the middle of the table.

This dog has been taught by emphasizing what it may do over what it may not do. A variety of rewards has taught this dog to choose the behavior that we actually want. You may think what the dog is doing is NOT pulling, but the dog has chosen to walk by its owner’s side. You may think the dog is NOT getting in the garbage, but the dog knows that the garbage is not the best route to the tastiest food.

A dog's well-mannered behavior formed by this type of training is better than "correct." You get the best of both worlds: a dog whose spirit is happy and lively, and a family pet that continues to be a joy for you to have in your home.

 

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