Identifying And Using Positive Triggers For Your Dog | Susan Garrett's Dog Training Blog

Identifying And Using Positive Triggers For Your Dog

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Last week we looked at understanding triggers. There are all sorts of triggers for your dog, good and bad. This week we are looking at good triggers that can be used to benefit your life with your dog to build YOU into your dog’s rewards. Remember that your dog’s rewards are determined by your dog, and are anything he gets reinforcement from. When you know what is rewarding for your dog, you can transfer the value of that reinforcement to you.

What is a Good Trigger?

An example with my own dogs is me putting on my shoes. The joy or value my dogs experience on walks or while working with me has been transferred into the action of me putting on a pair of shoes. The shoes now trigger something exciting is about to occur.

In my vlog on understanding triggers, I covered that you picking up your car keys might be a good trigger if your dog loves car rides. Just the sound of your keys jingling if your dog does not see you pick them up could also be a trigger. Triggers might be certain actions, sights, sounds, smells, words, gestures… and it is by observing your dog’s responses that you will get to know all the good triggers he has.

It’s Your Turn to be Sherlock Holmes

In my blog on “Effective Triggers and the Transfer of Value” I wrote that dogs are brilliant detectives and one of many great assets dogs have is their ability to figure out patterns of reinforcement. It’s now your turn to be that brilliant detective! You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes, pick a detective of your choice. When you are channelling your favourite detective, observe all the good triggers your dog has.

Keep a pen and paper handy or use notes on your phone to start your ‘good trigger’ list. When you notice your dog has an interested or excited response, all you need to do is record what immediately preceded that and also what the reinforcement is for him. Simple, right?

Here are some general ideas to get you started; when you begin noticing your dog’s good triggers you will find many.

Reinforcement: A winter walk.
Response
: Excited pacing at door.
Trigger: Putting on snow shoes.

Reinforcement: Car ride.
Response
: Run to the car door to hop in.
Trigger: Car Keys.

Reinforcement: Your attention.
Response
: Jumping up and staring at you.
Trigger: The sound of your computer turning off.

Reinforcement: A game with you.
Response
: Excited interest.
Trigger: The sound of Susan Garrett’s voice on TV (or from a computer, or phone or tablet). I put this one in because it always makes me smile as many of my online students report this as a good trigger. After watching a training session with me, it’s play time for them and their dog as our training is in the form of fun games.

Waiting on the stairs here is a powerful trigger that each dog gets an opportunity to work on the training field! The foundations of this are built with Crate Games.

Creating Your Own Positive Triggers

A positive trigger that I built for my dogs and that I’ve shown you in previous blog video is inhalation/exhalation … my breath sharply brought in and blown out triggers drive and excitement in my dogs. You could create this for yourself. In the example of a dog who loves car rides, take the sharp breath, and then pick up your car keys. It won’t be long before that breath is a positive trigger for your dog.

Another way to create a trigger is to repeat that trigger while the dog is in the act of doing something he LOVES. For example, if your dog loves tugging with you, say a word when playing tug to create a verbal trigger that is conditioned to the fun and drive your dog has for tugging.

Think for a moment what positive triggers you have that may currently have value for your dog. One I can think of is the word “r-e-a-d-y”. People say that word just before they do a restrained recall or send their dog to chase a ball, or bite a decoy sleeve. It is a great positive trigger but it is only one, there are hundreds to be had!

When I train my dog, I unconsciously use multiple triggers to keep my dog engaged with me into and out of work. When you create a new positive trigger, use it before fun interaction with you to build the value in that interaction into value for you! We always want our dogs to be in the optimal state for engagement with us, so there is fun and joy, and if you do a performance sport, this is vital as not only do we want our dogs to work, we want them to work with enthusiasm. The caveat with the positive triggers you create, is to use them appropriately. If your dog leaves work, don’t use a trigger to get him back as this is a sure way to diminish the power of a positive trigger or even poison it.

Today I am grateful that Tater-Salad had a play-date with a kindred spirit, Daisy, who visited us this week. As you can see in the photo below they are peas in a pod.

Daisy and Tater. Tater wore a bow tie for the occasion of their first play date.

Let us know in the comments all the good triggers for your dog that you detect and the positive triggers you create.

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