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.
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?
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
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?”
OF COURSE THEY DO!
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.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.