How Awesome is Reinforcement Really?

Posted on 01/07/10 22 Comments

Okay if you haven’t read yesterday’s blog post, please do or this one won’t make sense to you.

Yesterday I had many of you stressing about what I wrote. You were like dogs shutting down on me, leaving the ring or frantically stress running about, looking for challenges in order to gain appeasement. Ain’t it grand when real life can teach us so much as a dog trainer?

If you re-read my post, no one was given a “cyber smack” no one was given a “time out” all I did was allow you to spend a few moments in my head (how scary was that being in MY head) as I reviewed my options as a dog trainer.  As I was writing that post I thought, this should be all about reinforcing the behaviour I want to see in my readers. But then a little voice in my head say  . . . “hey Susie Q . . .” (my pet name for myself when I have a brilliant idea) ” . . this can be so much more for everyone!”

What if I suggested the use of a mild punisher. What if I eluded to the fact that somebody may have disappointed me. Lets see how people react to that kind of stress. And bingo! Many of you did, and it was only the brave few that wrote in and told me you were feeling stressed,  but I bet there were a few more of you at home either curled up in the fetal position sucking your thumb (stressing down) or dropping “F-bombs” at the computer screen saying “that Susan Garrett, how dare she insult me, I won’t read THAT blog anymore !” (stressing high).

I just love it when life gives you the opportunity to really walk in your dog’s shoes for a moment or two and allows you to feel what is it like to be one creature under the influence of another.

Some dogs, like people, just stress easier than others. These are the ones that make you a better dog trainer . . . if you let them.

When you are training your dog, sometimes it only takes a heavy sigh to convey your disappointment to him. If yesterday’s post just rolled of your back like nothing of any importance happened to you, then you may be one of those gifted dogs. You know the ones, those are the dogs that some people believe are just “born” rather than created with solid dog training. Those are the ones some people hope to find when they  constantly rotate through dog after dog hoping to find “the one.” You are one of those dogs that can “put up” with the stresses of training and the dealings of an impatient trainer with an agenda of places he needs to get to.

But for the rest of you souls who yesterday reacted in some way to what I wrote, you are the dogs we have be talking about in this thread. You are the dog that shows anxiety behaviours when a bar falls because, even though the punishment may be mild, the sense of disappointing his owner is unbearable to him.

Training positively is more than just “using a cookie most of the time”. Training positively is getting into your dog’s head and knowing what he needs to be joyfully connected to you so that you can bring out the best he has to give.

Today I am grateful to all of you that where an unknowing participants in my cyber petrie dish.  I am sending you all massive amounts of outrageously positive energy. . . . and oh yeah, keep those challenges coming will you?


  1. Sarah says:
    Monday, January 11, 2010 at 4:00am

    I just found your site and blog today 🙂 I am all pumped up to order the Crate Games later this week, and read your past and future blogs. I am still a relative beginner at operant conditioning, and am excited to learn more tools that only use positive reinforcement.
    Washington State


  2. Nat says:
    Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 1:31pm

    Great post Susan. We all need to remember how to put ourselves in our dogs’ “shoes” (or maybe fur?). It’s only fair to the dogs who try so hard for us.


  3. Claire Dell says:
    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 1:01pm

    Oh my god you are so right – talk about another lightbulb moment. Dont you just love them.


  4. Mary M says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 8:13pm

    Interesting to me, to see that a few people related their own way of stressing to how the dog they currently have stresses….funny how our dogs mirror us!

    So, now I have to realize how to be boulder on course and in training with my dog so he can mirror my self-assured behavior and gain some speed….it is time to push the status quo for us both on course, he has great foundation now I just need to build speed, and not be as concerned with mistakes, those can be good to have, so I know where the holes in my foundation training are and I can work from there 🙂

    Great reflection, thanks Susan for again more inspiration!



  5. Andrea says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:35pm

    My experience was like Kristine – I wrote several yappy responses – but I deleted them all. Instead I copied those challenging courses from the original post and sent it to my agility group – which I suppose was an around-about way of getting approval in a “safer” environment.

    Really cool comparison to dog stress and behaviour. I can see Leila do something similar – play disc for 2 mins then go off and eat grass – and work completely without stress indoors. Thanks for the reminder that working with a stressing dog makes a better dog trainer – I like the challenge.


  6. lynne brubaker says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 5:52pm

    This was GOOD!


  7. MJ says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 5:37pm

    Here is a challenge, WP entry, that we ran at Silvia Trkman seminar last December.

    Begin Course Designer
    Version 3
    For a free viewer, go to
    End Course Designer


  8. Linda G. says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 5:03pm

    Great follow-up blog for yesterday’s experiment. 🙂


  9. Therese from Norway says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 5:01pm

    I really liked to take part in your cyber experiment! 🙂 You gave me an aha-experience by your post today! This blog is inspiring me in so many ways!


  10. Kristine D. says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 3:12pm

    Hi Susan –

    May I come out of the petri dish now? Your analogy to the petri dish brought me back to my college microbiology classes. After we grew our cultures, the petri dish looked gross and disgusting. But when using a microscope to examine all of the little micro-organisms living in that culture, our perspective changed so much. It was often quite beautiful (for us science-geeks, I suppose).

    Perhaps nothing is what it seems on its surface.

    I keep flipping back between yesterday’s and today’s posts, including my comments. And here is what I see today with a little more clarity…

    I “stressed” about a challenge that was way beyond my capability.

    My own response was to start yapping and offering other behaviors that I hoped would please you. This is exactly what my boy does when I ask him for something beyond his capability. He barks at me and offers other behaviors that have earned him reinforcement in the past.

    Alright. I hoped I’ve learned my lesson. You’re GE.NI.US.!

    Thank you for allowing us visit the inside of your head… it’s only a little scary. But it’s like “halloween haunted house” scary… and all in the good way!


  11. Caroline McKinney says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 2:34pm

    Not sure whether this is stressing up or down, but I kept trying to figure out how to take the challenge (using courses kindly supplied by readers) when living in the northern boonies with no place to practice in the winter. Does everyone else have places to practice in the winter?

    I printed out lots of courses and have been running them with my pencil but I don’t think that counts. VBG

    OK OK so maybe this is all a bunch of excuses. I’ll work on it


  12. Jason says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 2:24pm

    tricksy Hobbit!


  13. Kelly says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 2:01pm

    I’m thinking that for me, what your post did was pick out one of my weaknesses as a trainer: a tendency towards laziness! 🙂 That and the “Well I sure can’t go and ask an elite trainer for challenges! They are certainly too busy to be bothered by ME — some high-level competitor will ask . . . ” feeling. Very good petrie dish . . . identifying all sorts of stressors . . . . 😉


  14. Diane says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 1:43pm

    “Training positively is more than just “using a cookie most of the time”. Training positively is getting into your dog’s head and knowing what he needs to be joyfully connected to you so that you can bring out the best he has to give.”

    Oh I love that. I am going to print it out and put it by my computer. Thank you.


  15. Helen KIng says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 1:20pm

    Brilliant (as usual;)


  16. Jo says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 12:20pm

    Susan – you are an awesome teacher! Wonderful analogy, hope everyone takes it on board. This may not apply to my agility at the moment (ducked that one!) but it has given me a heads up on other things I’ve been doing lately. Thanks for the insight!


  17. Jan DeMello says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:30am

    enjoy reading you blog and what I find interesting is your reference to using ‘he’ for the dog when I remember another blog post of yours saying you prefer females over males. I would expect you to use the ‘she’ word:>)


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 12:03pm

      Hmmm, good catch Jan, it must be my old school English class grammar catching up with me. I know I have in the past used “she” in a blog post when I was referring to something extraordinary that a dog did (kind of my own private joke while writing . . . although not so private now:)). And if dreams mean anything, the night before last I had a dream that John bought me a boy-dog Toller puppy as a surprise! And the biggest shock (in my dream) wasn’t that it was a Toller, it was that it was a boy dog!

      I guess once you’ve had the best boy dog on the planet, it would be hard for any other to measure up right?:)


  18. Kristine says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:28am

    LOL! My response to yesterday’s blog would translate into this. “Susan’s criteria for this challenge is way too high for me. I’ll just keep reading and let others run with this one, and wait to participate when she presents a challenge that is at my level.” 🙂


  19. Diana says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:00am

    Wow, thanks for the analogy. That really helps me. And the sighing, I have recently realized I do this without thinking and it really effects my dogs. Now to stop it when I dont realize Im doing it. Ugh! Diana


  20. Heather Sather says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 10:53am

    What a great picture!


  21. Judith Batchelor says:
    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 10:37am

    Susan you keep on reminding us we need to be patient and have a sense of humor. THANKS!



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