Self-Rewarding Behaviors and Why They Matter in Dog Training
I use the term “self-rewarding behavior” quite a bit when talking about dog training!
And, although it seems logical to me as a trainer, it is sometimes difficult for the average pet owner to understand.
“Self-Rewarding Behaviors” Broken Down
A self-rewarding behavior is a behavior that naturally rewards the dog!
Eating is self-rewarding.
Drinking water is self-rewarding.
After all, we need to eat and drink to survive.
So, anything that is a primary reinforcer (something we need to survive, i.e. food, water, shelter) is something that, when taken, is self-rewarding.
This also means that ignoring these behaviors won’t make them go away.
In order to get rid of a self-rewarding behavior, you must correct it or avoid it altogether!
Behaviors That Are Self-Rewarding To Your Dog
That means stealing food is the #1 most self-rewarding behavior.
It pretty much doesn’t matter how much you yell and pitch a fit, the dog was rewarded for stealing food.
Food tastes good, especially human food!
And, the problem is that the dog soon realizes that it is a race… if he can get there faster, or if he can sneak into the kitchen or trash, he can fulfill his need to taste good food and feel more full.
As you can imagine, this is a horrible thing for the dog to figure out!
It is especially bad because dogs are almost always faster, smarter, and sneakier than we are!
His life and his focus revolves around you making the mistake of leaving the pizza on the counter when you are preoccupied with what you have to do at work tomorrow.
Stealing Your Things
Stealing your things is also fun and therefore a “self-rewarding” behavior.
He glances over toward you, as he looks at the sock you left on the floor… he is gauging how much time he has to snatch that sock and go flying around the room before you give chase.
After all, there is almost nothing more fun for a dog than stealing something and being chased and yelled at by his owner.
I am sure he doesn’t enjoy the yelling as much… but he does love being chased!
This is a fun game for him.
This is also a game he feels in charge of starting.
Neither your dog finding infinite fun in inappropriate games nor initiating those games is a good thing for you!
That is why I refuse to chase a dog.
If that problem sounds familiar, please click on the link above.
Want to know another, odd, self-rewarding doggy behavior?
Jumping up is self-rewarding because, despite the correction, at least the dog got close to you.
Dogs like being in our space (at least most of them).
They like when we give them our attention and they jump on each other for the same reasons, to play and receive attention.
So when your dog jumps on you, he is getting your attention and rewarding himself!
That is why so many of these behaviors are so difficult to change.
Because despite the correction (unless it is horrifying), the behavior feels good.
We’ve created a fun game to help you teach your dog to stop jumping on you:
To download the rest of the Step Away Game, please click here.
For Some Dogs
For some dogs, just getting in trouble, or beaten, or yelled at, for ANY BEHAVIOR is worth it.
Just like some children misbehave just so that their parents will pay attention to them, so will some dogs.
Dogs wander the house seeking destruction just so that their owner has some kind of interaction with them at some point during the day.
How sad is that?
I mean, we get dogs to spend time with them, right?
What to do About Self-Rewarding Behaviors
So how, then, do we deal with self-rewarding behaviors to keep them from getting out of control?
Spend time with your dog!
If you are spending time training and playing with your puppy or dog, his boredom will be less, and his desire to sleep will be more, which will help you avoid the problem completely!
It also means that he is more likely to listen to you when you ask him or tell him to STOP doing something, or use commands like “Leave It”
Avoid the problem!
If you have a young, impressionable, wild puppy… don’t leave food out on the counter.
Don’t leave your pizza plate on the sofa.
Don’t let the garbage overflow and look like a buffet!
Because, after this happens, you are on the race of who is smartest and fastest!
Adult dogs, who are well-trained, are much less apt to steal food because they know it is against the rules.
What if it Happens?
So what if it happens… your dog has learned to do all these things?
PUT HIM ON LEASH and teach him manners! Help him learn to control his impulsive behaviors like jumping or stealing food.
Leashes are wonderful for containing bad behavior, controlling impulses, and teaching manners!
In the guide and service dog industry, we tether our new dogs to us so that we are forced to teach them manners and not allow these impulsive behaviors to start!
Take a tip from this flawless type of training, and do the same with your dog to teach him a lifetime of impulse control and manners in a few short weeks!
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.