Why The Anticipation of Reward Can Be Greater than the Reward

When I was 12 I wanted a gold chain.

My mother was all about jewelry and had diamonds, and gold, and silver.

She didn’t believe in fake jewelry and I’m still has a nice stash.

I have never been much for jewelry, I have two silver bands I wear and the occasion necklace.  I never wanted a big diamond and just having a raised jewel on my finger drives me nuts!

But when I was 12 all I wanted was to fit in and have a gold chain.

I picked one out at Target, it was about $100 which is a fortune for a 12 year old.

I visited that chain at least once a week for at least a year.

I worked odd jobs and did some baby sitting and I saved.

I suppose this was my big learning moment for saving your money and investing it in something you really, really want.

Eventually I Got It

Eventually I saved enough to buy it and I got it.

I remember how happy I was to finally have achieved my goal; and then to only realize how easily kinked the gold would get when I wore it and how it yanked out the hair around the back of my neck.

I guess it didn’t exactly meet my expectations and I was eventually disappointed.

The anticipation of getting what I wanted was so much greater than the reward of getting it.

Thanks Community.dog for the adorable Photo

Thanks Community.dog for the adorable Photo

Excitement was built in the “working for it”.  And, I am glad my parents didn’t just buy it for me (now) as I have learned to work for everything I get.

And, unlike most in the current generation; I learned to work HARD.  I like hard work.  I don’t like standing around, I have a good work ethic and I don’t expect a gigantic paycheck for doing very little.

Although a big check with little work sounds good, it isn’t very realistic and it certainly doesn’t teach work ethic.

I Want Work Ethic

Not only do I want to work hard.

I want to hire people with hard work ethic.

AND, I want a DOG with work ethic.

I don’t want a dog who needs a cookie after the second command, or the third command or the fourth command.

Eventually I want a dog that can do a 20 minute heeling and obedience routine with no reward at all except for praise “Good Dog” and a little pat of affection.

After all, if you ever compete and if you don’t want a dog that looks like an ottoman with legs, you need to vary how often your dog is getting rewarded and work away from tons of reward.

Don’t Get Me Wrong

In the beginning when you are teaching your dog, he needs LOTS of reward and LOTS of reward with repetition in order for him to learn what you want and perform with accuracy.

But after a while if you are just dipping into your pockets for treat after treat after treat, or constantly playing games you are bribing him; you are not teaching him anymore!  For more on misusing treats or bribery click here

And, remember that the reward needs to be greater than the distraction or whatever we are asking him to do.  So in the beginning he gets a little treat for good behavior and learning, but if he ignores a squirrel or the annoying screaming, barking neighbor child he gets a jackpot of chicken or a game of retrieve (this is a much higher value reward for my dogs) for more on that click here.

But What of the Interim?

Thank you to Pets WebMD for the Photo

Thank you to Pets WebMD for the Photo

So what about in between; when you are trying to extend the amount of time from when he learned the behavior (and now knows it) and not rewarding ALL THE TIME anymore?

That is when the ANTICIPATION of reward motivates your dog forward.

He knows it is coming, he just doesn’t know WHEN it is coming.

Like the Jewelry

Like my gold chain.  I didn’t know WHEN I would raise enough money but I knew I would be getting that chain.  The anticipation and thinking about my reward was almost better than the actual reward itself.

So how do you do that?

First, remember it is a bit of a slow process.  If you go from rewarding frequently to hardly rewarding at all anymore; you’ll end up with a dog who has NO INTEREST IN OBEDIENCE anymore.

Remember his goal or toy, or food, or whatever he is working for has to be attainable!

Next is to build his anticipation of it.

Get him excited!

Tease him with his food or his toy, prior to making him work a little bit for him.  Allow him to build his drive for the object by making that object clear but unattainable for a little bit.

At first he will jump on you and show bad behavior; but as he learns to cap his desire to steal the toy or treat from you he will learn to channel that excitement into his obedience.

Before I Get Started

Thanks Attack of the Cute for the Photo

Thanks Attack of the Cute for the Photo

Before I get started working with my dogs, I show them everything I have for them if they achieve their goals.

I show them I have chicken, I have dog food, I have their favorite ball, and I have their tug toy.  I often put them into a fanny pack, or vest, or oversized sweatshirt.

And, I lightly tease them with it; asking “Do you want to go training?  Do you want to work?”


They want the opportunity to get the things they desire.

For a decent job if you are a dog you get a piece of dog food.  For good job, if you are one of my dogs you get some chicken breast or a jackpot of chicken breast and for an excellent job you (as a dog) would get a game of tug or retrieve.

My dogs work mostly for their toys.  A treat keeps them on the right path but a game is why they play.

Eventually I fade all my treats and they work for their games.

And, occasionally I make them wait LONG periods of time with lots of obedience before a LONG game of retrieve and play.

These are the games or jackpots that keep them working.

I don’t do it often.

Even though I can get my dogs to work for 20 minutes or more at a time without rewards, I don’t do it very often.

BECAUSE I want them to think the reward is just around the corner, and I do that by building their anticipation for the reward.

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  1. Betty Bakken says:

    I have a standard poodle. He is not excited about treats, toys and food. He will stick his nose up at bacon, steak, cookies and most anything we offer him from the human pallete.
    We have at least six different types of dog treats just sitting, open and they will get stale and he will not eat them.
    He has one toy that be plays with although he has many. Also will retrive a tennis ball, only one and will search till he finds it, but only when he wants to play. He is very patient and will stand for a half hour or more waiting for you to toss the ball.
    So to have something to motivate him has been impossible. He obeys me much better then my husband because I do not ask for anything unless he does what I ask or he will eventually comply. I do not allow him not to comply, even if it take some time. So now for some ideas for training would be very helpful. Thanks in advance.


    Minette Reply:

    Food is always a motivator if you make it a motivator. Dogs need food to survive. The problem is your dog is not hungry… if he was hungry he would eat those treats. But most people leave the food out and treat their dogs just because they love them.

    If my dog isn’t interested in food then he is going to skip a meal or two. Read these articles to find out more http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/treats-working-dog-whale-tv/



  2. Janae_Paws says:

    We tried to do that but our dog got tired of it and is still the destructive dog we have now. Do you know any other way we can get her attention for training?


    Minette Reply:

    Most destructive dogs need more exercise; boredom comes through as destruction… and destruction is fun for dogs.

    a 5 mile run or something that will exhaust her will keep her from being destructive. I run my dog next to my trike so that he sleeps in the afternoon and evening.

    but it is also important to work on training and mental stimulation read this http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/mental-exercise-tires-dog-physically-physical-exercise/


  3. heather says:

    I relate to this article a LOT! I’ve been dealing with our 10 1/2 year old dog who has LOVED his kennel for years. It’s his safe haven and he has willingly gone into it to escape and have his time. “Suddenly” he hates it at night. He whines, barks and escalates to frantic. I haven’t seen this behavior…ever. I knew he was safe…and I finally broke b/c I needed sleep! Two nights in a row he “won” and got let out of his kennel.

    So, I had to go back and think about why “suddenly” he doesn’t like it. I discovered a trail of times I’ve let him not follow through with a command…and also realized I had really slacked off on his treats. He gets them, but it’s pretty random (we got busy with a business launch and just kept forgetting – oops!).

    Two days ago my husband told him “on your bed” (which is “kennel” and he just jumped up to the couch. AH HA! Didn’t know you’d be sneaking up there! So now…back to treats only in the kennel. The anticipation of the treat gets him back into his kennel for up to 30 minutes before he comes out to remind me ‘hey! treat?” then right back in to nap…thanks for the reminder!! And ZigDog thanks you for the up-leveling of treats!


  4. Andrea says:

    I agree with you that Food is always a motivator if you make it a motivator. some experience issues understanding the contrast in the middle of remuneration and prize. On the off chance that your pooch is giving an activity and that is the reason the puppy is getting the treat, then you are alright. Simply recollect that the conduct ought to be the consequence of the treat; the treat ought not to be the aftereffect of the conduct.


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