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Understand Value from a Dog’s Perspective – Karen Phillips

Have you ever wondered why some people make dog training look so easy?  Their dogs gaze at them adoringly waiting for their next command while lying quietly at their owner’s feet.  Then jump to attention the moment their owner gives the word. 

The reason for this is that these people understand the concept of value from a dog’s perspective and how to make themselves the most valuable thing to their dog.  This is easier than you think once you understand how value works in your dog’s world.

There is still a common perception out there that dogs should do what we tell them purely out of loyalty and love for their owner.  Unfortunately if your dog is off lead down the park and has a choice between running off and playing with other dogs or coming back to you, it is unlikely that you will win if the best you can offer your dog is a pat on the head for his compliance.

TV shows of these amazingly loyal and loving hounds like Lassie no doubt perpetuate this mind set as these “super” dogs save people from burning buildings with no more reward than a cuddle and a smile.  However I can guarantee you that in reality, Lassie’s trainer would have been busily rewarding Lassie between takes with whatever Lassie’s favourite treats were in order to get those wonderful on screen behaviours.

So how do you make yourself valuable to your dog?  Let’s firstly look at this from a person’s perspective.  I think most would agree that to the average person money is what people want thus making it valuable to us.  If the right amount is on offer most people will do things that they may not necessarily enjoy.  The higher the amount the more effort will be made and the more likely a person would be to do something that they may never normally consider.  Obviously to a dog money is meaningless so we need to look to what the equivalent.  In most cases it is food.  In some instances it may be a much prized toy.

When thinking about the types of rewards to use you need to decide what it is that your dog likes best, not what you think your dog should like best.  If he gets dry dog biscuits every day for his meal it is unlikely that he is going to put in a big effort in order to get more dry biscuits.  If you really want success in your dog training find something special that your dog wouldn’t normally get, such as roast beef.  Once again to put it into a person perspective, if you were asked to do something that you really didn’t want to and all that was on offer was $1 you’d probably laugh and walk away.  We can consider the equivalent of $1 to a dog to be dry dog biscuits.  However if you were offered $10,000 for doing that same thing, you would be in there with a smile on your face while making sure you were noticed in order to get your money.  The equivalent of $10,000 to the average dog would be raw steak or roast beef.

For dogs that aren’t particularly food motivated it is generally because they either get a smorgasbord every day for their normal meal or they are just too well fed.  Once again, to look at it from a human perspective, if you went to work every day and did absolutely nothing but still got paid the same amount regardless then there is no motivation to actually work.  The same can be said for your dog.  If your dog gets cooked steak, chicken and gravy every day for dinner for doing nothing other than lounging around the house there is no motivation for him to ever do as you ask.  Let’s face it, he already has everything he needs with no effort required!

To our dogs, access to these special things should never be free.  If you are the person controlling when the dog gets his favourite things, which should only be after he has done something you wanted him to, then you immediately create value for yourself in your dog’s eyes.

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