Birds, Sheep, Rats and other Out of Control Rewards

Last week during our discussion of training methodology several of you wrote in with the same concern (and I’m certain there where several more of you that sat in silent wonder in front of your computer screen).  The question is, can you control your dog’s highest reinforcement if this reinforcement is out of your control and there appears to be nothing more valuable to the dog? I am talking about the value of sheep to a Border Collie or birds to a field dog or rats to a Terrier.  The answer is yes and no.

Can Susan Garrett control her dog’s responses around their favorite reinforcement without physical punishment? Yes. Can the rest of you? Possibly not. Why the difference? It has nothing to do with me being better at this than any of you, that is just a limiting belief you may be currently harbouring and until you deal with that nothing will be possible. I am no different than anyone. I am not holding a store of magic pixie dust, I hold no secret power nor was born with any magical sense of dogs that the rest of you lack.

The reason I may have success where you don’t comes down to my knowledge of a dog trainer. So the first thing you do is get you butt to one of my Advances in Dog Training Workshops. That alone will give you the tools to know how to control those seemingly out of control rewards.  Why am I so confident it can be done? First of all there is Bob Bailey.

When Bob trained dolphins what do  you think he used as a primary reinforcement? Well, he likely used a number of things, but mostly he used fish. The thing the dolphins where fed everyday. Now you may cry, you can’t compare dolphin training to dog training because dolphins are worked in an aquarium environment with no distractions, not even another dolphin near by. Yes for the most part this is true, but Bob Bailey was a pioneer in open ocean training of dolphins. He trained them to do bomb searches for the US Navy. Here the dolphins had to swim ahead a mile away from the trainer in open ocean to scout for bombs that may have been planted by the American armed force’s enemy.


Bob working at one of our Say Yes Chicken Camps many years ago.

Bob works at one of his Say Yes Chicken Camps from many years ago.


Here the dolphins would have their freedom, the chance to leave captivity, here the dolphins would swim by a few trillion fish but return when recalled (they wore a collar that emitted sounds they were trained to recognize) and when they returned to Bob guess what their reward was? Fish. Why would they do it?  They just swam by all the possible reinforcement they could ever want. They could have the ultimate reinforcement of their freedom? The reason is that when you train this way the work takes on the value of the reinforcement and often times it becomes MORE reinforcement than the reward itself (this isn’t necessarily a good thing and you must have a plan if this happens).

I said that is one of the reasons I know you can control your dog in the face of ducks, sheep and rats, tomorrow I will go into another reason for my strong belief.

Today I am grateful for the curiosity what driving the change of what is and is not acceptable methodology in dog training.

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