It's raining, beautiful. I love when it rains; especially here in Southern California where rain is scarce. Although this means that many people this morning cannot get their dog out to go to the bathroom. Like my big dogs, they get to the door, see the rain and turn around. So we bring out the treats, ask them to go and they do, amazing what a little treat can do.
The rain today means that we will be changing up where we go for socializing; I had planned on making a trip to the skate park again. We went yesterday and Elsa near had a panic attack; it was fairly busy and she had no idea what these whizzing around people were doing. We need to go back, bring lots of treats and chill there for a good amount of time. But that will be next week when it dries out; for today I think it's looking like we are heading to Lowes. I have quite a few things that I need to pick up; I'll need a cart which is good practice for Elsa to walk beside as well as everything else.
Treats and rewards are so important when you are teaching new behaviors or exposing to new things. When teaching behaviors, treats give us a way to let a dog know that they have done the correct thing. It helps us to improve the chance of repetition; upping the odds of good behaviors being offered again and again. Many behaviors are simply what dogs do, if they are undesirable then we need to reward them for not doing them and doing alternative behaviors.
Take for instance a scene that played out in front of our house yesterday. A boy was running down the street with his dog, a border collie mix. I could hear a car coming and see on the dogs face that he was indeed getting ready for the chase. This was a fairly big dog; the boy was around 13, the running was giving the boy less control of the situation as he yelled out "LEAVE IT." The boy knew what was coming as the dog lunged towards the road and they kept running. They got through it and moved on past our house.
Car chasing is a very hard behavior to crack with a dog that has extremely high chase drive. The secret is to find the reward that makes the difference; perhaps it is not food, more than likely it would be a tug toy. What you need to get through to the dog is; "don't do what you want, do what I want and you will be rewarded." If you offer no reward then why would a dog not do what makes them happy? By offering an alternative behavior, say sitting or doing a down stay you are showing the dog that there are alternative behaviors other than chasing.
Rewards help to create a positive association as well. Giving people treats to hand to your new puppy make people a great and wonderful thing. Placing treats on scary objects make those objects less scary and more approachable. A couple of weeks ago I took Elsa to the park where there are several large bear statues; we was terrified as I thought she would be. They are in a frozen stance, staring, this means danger. So I remained calm, chatted happily and tossed treats by their feet. Now each time we pass this bears she just looks for the treats they have.
Rewards are not simply goodies for your dog. Rewards, when properly distributed have great power and intense meaning. Dogs do not come programmed for a human world but we can definitely help them out by guidance and rewarding the good stuff.