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Grow the Value

Posted on 07/13/10 18 Comments

Some of you have noted that what was valuable to your dog as a puppy is not the same today. That is great actually, since most of what was valuable as a puppy with my Border Collies involved chasing things away from me and that isn’t conducive to effective training!

Time for each of you to review your list of reinforcers after playing some of the games I have posting recently. Chances are the value has changed for your dog. Hopefully you have been able to grow your list of A rewards. That is the goal and here is an easy way to grow your value.

If your dog loves running in the woods but doesn’t care much for food, have him eat something really tasty (the highest ranking food reward you have to start) from your hand before you unclip the leash to let him run. If he is too wound up to eat the food move back away from the woods and try again.

Keep moving back if the dog refuses to do what you want, each time making the distance twice as far as the last. Even if you have to get back to your car or in your house. When your dog finally decides to eat the piece of food reward him but saying “Okay lets go ________” (whatever it was he was wanting to do in the first place).

Once the dog realizes he must do what you want or he doesn’t get what he wants, you can lower the value of the food you feed at the beginning of this process. This game actually works to increase the value of any of the food you use since the value of the fun activity the dog can’t wait to do gets transferred into the food that precedes the fun activity.

What you are doing is “Premacking” the value of one activity into something you want your dog to do. I call it “Transferring the value” and it works like magic. You have to be unemotional when the dog’s choice is “don’t wanna, don’t hafta”.  Just offer the reward once and if the dog doesn’t want it, move further away from what has got him aroused.

Give it a try and let me know. If you are a newsletter subscriber you should be receiving a sneak peak and the new e-course today, but from here on out any new news about the course is going out first to those on the recallers list (you automatically where signed up if you registered to watch the presentation on restrained recalls).

Today I am grateful that my sisters and I where able to convince my brother Brent to buy all of his required furnishings yesterday!


  1. Jess says:
    Saturday, September 30, 2017 at 3:32am

    I love this post. My dog also loves to run in the woods and I am twisting my BRAIN to figure out how to give this to him, but he still won’t recall when he is out on a wild romp so I can’t just let him loose. How the heck do I work this?! He knows when he is on a long line. So….I am still pondering!


  2. Carolyn says:
    Tuesday, July 19, 2016 at 11:49am

    I am SO HAPPY!!! I cannot thank you enough for this post! After THREE YEARS (and three trainers) of trying to find a rewarding enough treat to train outside, this worked after only three 5 minute sessions!!! I am in absolute awe. We have a long way to go before I can let him off leash, but at LEAST, we can practice on a long lead outside now!


  3. Darian says:
    Friday, November 7, 2014 at 5:48pm

    This is exactly the information I need right now with my 8 month old Boxer! Thanks Susan! Will give this a try for sure! Also, any advice on how to help my puppy overcome her whining and shutting down when training? She starts whining and trying everything but what I’m asking, then shuts down when she doesn’t get a treat. She gets really frustrated. How do I overcome this with her?


  4. Kate Gasdon says:
    Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at 1:23pm

    Genuine question: my dogs most favourite, do-it-all-day-if-she-could activity is rolling in fox poop.

    Can I transfer the value of Rolling In Poop to tuggie/kibble etc?

    Because frankly the hassle of the extra extra baths would be totally worth it if it worked!

    I’m thinking have her on a long line in a poopy area, watch for her “I smell poop” signs, let her track it (so I know where it is) but guide her away, give kibble/have brief tug and then “Yaaay! Let’s go roll!”, dash to poop and let her squirm ecstatically for a few seconds, repeat etc…..?


  5. Kendra Renzoni says:
    Monday, October 14, 2013 at 10:14am


    This is supremely helpful because my Doberman pincher is so excited about doing everthing and when he knows he is about to do somwthing or if thereisa dog or squirrel around he is completely uninterested in me. at first, i was able to reward him with treatswhen he made the slightest look or gave me some attention, but he was starting to refuse my treats and so I began to get tastier treats, and he was even refusing those and so I felt empty handed, like I could do nothing, he had even began to act not interested in tugging. I thought that my treats sucked, that something about the way I was tugging wasn’t right, and that I was just doing something wrong so I let him refuse my stuff. But now I see that I have to insist that what I want is important and that he gets what he wants after he does what I want and it has been working!! He is taking treats and he is quicker to focus and he is less anxious. Yay! Super helpful


  6. Jenny Yasi says:
    Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 8:51am

    Hi Susan! Can’t wait to come study with you in person again, I am loving your newsletters! One thing I have been doing, as you might, would be tugging up to the gates with Tigerlily. That has really helped build her tug drive, because she has to tug me up to the door or gate, tug me outside. I am always thinking of your “transfer the value” concept, and using your crate game ideas in gate games, really smart stuff Susan! You are the best! I love how healthy and smart and responsive my dogs are, so glad they aren’t squashed in any way, I really owe so much to you!


  7. Emily says:
    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 11:46am

    My puppy wasn’t more or less interested in anything but birds and running like a maniac when outside (she’s very Buzzy in that way I guess, just loooves to run). She wasn’t a foodie at all. She would play, when no distraction.
    As her mama (me) is a training maniac that wasn’t very compatible. But in stead of giving up I started to ‘Premack’ more or less every activity she found interesting going out of the front door, getting out of the car, getting on the sofa to cuddle with me and of course running like the wind and chasing birds. And a lot of other activities in fact, but the list would go on and on, so I don’t want to bore you with that.

    Let’s just take the bird example: she would have to eat a really delicious treat before allowed to chase the bird (in a safe environment of course). What happened was not just that I got a real chow hound, it also solved the bird ‘problem’. In a relatively short time, when she saw a bird she would come to me almost begging for a piece of food – at this point I would only sometimes let her chase the bird afterwards, but she wasn’t really even that interested in the bird anymore.

    I’ve been ‘premacking’ with both foods an toys and even though it has been A LOT of hard work and planning it has been so much fun and such a great learning experience for me as a dog trainer. I feel very blessed that I didn’t just get a reward (or at least rewards I could carry in my pockets) junkie, this have taught me so much.

    Needles to say I have one kick ass workaholic foodie n’ tuggie dog today right?

    So don’t get frustrated if you can’t train all the stuff you’ve planned with your new pup, because what you’ve got isn’t rewarding to them. Start altering the value and then you have a very trainable and happy dog later on 😉


  8. Lee Carr says:
    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 3:28pm

    Jenny raises a good point on the appropriatness of the activity we choose to “load” our dogs rewards with.

    Susan in the example you used, does the dog have a reliable recall in the woods?
    If the dog does not have a reliable recall around wildlife, other dogs, etc. would it be possible to transfer value effectively? Or would the rehersals of the dog chasing wildlife be counter-productive to your recall training?


    • Pam says:
      Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 12:50pm

      Very good question. That is where I am. His highest reward is running with other dogs, but that is the only situation where I can’t get a good recall. So I can’t really use that as a reward if I can’t get him to come back to me on the first call. Unless of course, I just don’t call him back until he’s exhausted and comes to me or maybe that reward is just too over the top for him and should not be used. Yes, good question.


  9. Bobbie Bhambree says:
    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 2:34pm

    When I first heard the concept “Don’t wanna, Don’t’ hafta” years ago, it was like someone finally turned the light on. Dogs are so clever! I didn’t know my dogs were workin’ me!

    This knowledge has helped me teach my terrier to choose to play with me instead of chase critters. It’s all still a work in progress, but Premack opportunities are occurring everywhere, all the time.


  10. Pat Duncan says:
    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 12:54pm

    With all the talk of recalls lately, little did I know that my ACD’s recall may have saved her life yesterday. I let Weaver out yesterday to potty in our unfenced yard, and a few seconds later I saw a raccoon where she always pottys. By that time she was face to face with it, about 1 ft. away, and I was screaming at her to come, and finally with composure I said, Weaver, leave it, Weaver come, and SHE CAME, not very fast, but she came. I still cannot believe it. I saw a coon tear a dog up once, and know how dangerous they are. A recall is probably the most important thing to train, thanks Susan. (I’ve been working on it real hard these last few weeks!!!)

    Pat Duncan


  11. Debbie S says:
    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 11:26am

    Thanks for all your encouragement & help Susan.
    At 13 weeks of age my BC pup wasn’t interested in food or toys at all when I got him. By experimenting with food, toys & activities (even naughty behaviors) along with the Premack Principle I’ve been able to get him to tug & eat food from me amoungst distractions & new enviornments 70 percent of the time.
    I had been having problems getting my dog to put effort into the 2×2 weave training until….I brought the water hose into the picture! When I was using food or toy/tug he just wasn’t trying very hard & would get bored & frustrated. When using the water hose as his reinforcement he is trying harder, working through failing & coming back and trying again. I am also getting more focus from him, which is a Bonus! I don’t know what I will do once we are into Winter but I will have to transfer the value into another reward that is reinforcing to my dog…maybe a snowblower LOL!


  12. Mary says:
    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 10:51am

    FYI To all reading this post and saying “but my dog won’t tug, or my dog won’t eat a Charlie bear…etc”
    After attending the AiDT seminar with Susan my dog who “would not tug with food around” now ferociously tugs anywhere on anything (even a rubber bracelet if that’s all that is around – as it was one day for me!) in the presence of food, running dogs, a lake (he loves to swim), and on the list goes.

    While I knew of the Premack Principle prior to the seminar I had not applied it in all facets of my training just the “sexy stuff” as Susan and/or her instructors would say and it has offered me more drive from my red BC, then I ever had, in applying this principle to ALL components of my training.
    —thanks Susan for this Aha moment, now I just need to have the Aha with my little girllie 😉

    I have to be really aware of her “I don’t wanna I don’t hafta” moments, as they happen multiple times throughout the day. On more then on occasion for example she has been left inside the house at different times when she won’t offer a sit at the back door to head out for a walk, we have also thrown my training “plans” out the door numerous times to go back to basics of “it’s yer choice” games and the list goes on….she is a tougher cookie, I know this must be created through my training but still trying to figure out what I am doing that creates this!

    The good news is I know her desires….highest reward for her is simply to physically go run 9Why her restrained recalls can happen with high distractions!), sounds strange but she really get’s juiced by just plan being physical so we pair things with this to apply the Premaick to other behaviors as well.

    On the flip side I have been rewarding her for “nothing” meaning for just relaxing on a spot, or standing still for a moment, this seems to be registering a bit for her. I think I was so jazzed to have such an enthusiastic and smart puppy that I trained TOO much for motion only and not enough for impulse control/chilling out!

    Can’t wait for the e-course!!!



    • Debbie S says:
      Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 11:35am

      Sounds like your little girl could be a sister to my male BC. I made the mistake to train too much Self-control & am now in the process of balancing out the self-control & building drive. Many times it feels as though our “on/off” button is broken. It doesn’t help when a dogs instinct is strong & intense & the handler is also intense & trying to learn how to help him. We humans seems to make things harder then we need too.


      • Mary says:
        Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 10:52pm

        Between the two of our foundation training excursions we would have the perfectly rounded pup!

        Thanks for sharing,


  13. Suzanne says:
    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 10:46am

    This is an awesome training tool and have seen it work for many different dogs. Love it!!


  14. Ray says:
    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 8:27am

    Really excited about the e-course! My Labs love to play games so I know they’re gonna love it:)


  15. Jenny Ruth Yasi says:
    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 8:26am

    Question: what if you really can’t give the dog what he wants? What if it’s dangerous to let him off leash, because what he really wants is to chase deer/squirrel/cat/bird?

    I worked with squirrels in this premack-y sorta way, with my dog on a longline, reinforcing her attention on me by giving her permission to run on a longline towards toward squirrel trees. It seemed like a good idea, I was getting pretty good behavior out of her on the longline, but this didn’t start to satiate her prey drive, in fact it seemed to ramp it up. And while I got a lot more control with her on the longline, when I started to shrink the longline down to 35 feet from 50 feet, she got away from me! Scary! And that’s how she discovered blast off escapes. It was a big problem. Her off leash abilities shrunk and shrunk, she developed an obsessive interest with getting away (leaping out windows!) to hunt. It was a difficult problem! I think I post here before about how one time she leapt off a stage (we were performing freestyle in an old community theatre building) and took off out an open door to chase cats! I did NOT expect that!

    So, Premack confused her. She needs it black and white, that she isn’t ever going to get hunt/chase live animal as a reward. I had to teach her hunting is dangerous, because she had become really dangerously obsessed with it! Maybe if I did hunting, so she is actually allowed to retrieve a dead duck, maybe that would satiate her hunting interest? But all the Premack things that I tried short of that seemed only to build her obsessive interest in the hunt.


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