Words and treats

Words and treats are the tools we choose to use to communicate with our canine friend.

Mostly, we fall into using words for establishing a behaviour we want and use the treat as an immediate reward for the dog if and when he accomplishes the behaviour we have designated. However, tip of the paragraph, words can be rewarding to a dog (or a person), it is the tone and the way they are delivered that really makes them useful. The delivery and tone conveys your pleasure, the dog has already learned that when you are happy his life is easier and more pleasant, I am not saying or endorsing roaring at or physically hitting your dog, but if you are happy and say so with your body or vocal language then the dog’s environment is snug and warm too, his desire to survive is met and he is in comfort, even in the damp and mud, because you are happy he knows you can go on caring for him even in less than lovely conditions.

So if we let human logic reign for a moment, it is not the words that are the real reward, it is the comfort that they impart to the dog. The words, and same applies to treats, are the carrier pigeon, the human means of focusing and transmitting the human’s satisfaction so the dog knows he is comfortable and so surviving.

If you make the dog’s environment sung and comfortable he will try to interact with you for an even better outcome, he will try to be more obliging – positive environment and the student (your dog) will be more willing and more able to offer suggestions (behaviours) that may actually be what you want. If the dog’s experiment works, his biggest reward is your happiness (assuming you have never abused his trust or broken his respect by doing bad things to him in the past). The learning environment should be rewarding to the dog which then becomes rewarding to you – a spiral to a good situation. Equally, a spiral ‘downwards’ is easily accomplished if we as the leaders do not take care.

In human language, it doesn’t matter what you choose as ‘rewards’ they have no reward quality unless comfort and security is achieved by the dog, and in his mind. What we tend to label as ‘rewards’ are merely messengers, notes in the mail, telegrams.


this is part of a draft for the book with the working title Training the Clumber by Jan Irving, the article is copyright and may not be reused without written permission but you may link back to or share this page


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