Are You Rewarding Bad Behaviour Without Realizing?

Dogs vary in their abilities to recognize patterns and as a result it can cause different problems to occur when applying the same method of training to different dogs.

Reward Training – The idea behind reward training is to reward good behaviour. You make it so much fun that they just want to do the good behaviour. As a result the idea is they just won’t have time to do bad behaviours and just choose good behaviours.

Bad Behaviours – What happens when a dog does an undesired behaviour? One of the main techniques with Reward Training is to redirect the dog to a good behaviour.

Problem – The better a dog’s pattern recognition often the more problems you see with redirection. It is more likely this dog realizes that whenever they do a bad behaviour (according to us) there is always some kind of a reward to follow.

Which dogs fare the best with Reward Training? – The less pattern recognition a dog has, then the less likely it is that if they did something bad and you redirected that they would figure this pattern out. Also for reasons that would take me far too long to explain here, dogs with less pattern recognition also tend to challenge less so there is less need to redirect in the first place.

Funny examples – Some of my favorite examples over the years:

  1. Client with a Cocker spaniel – One family member was convinced he was the dumbest dog in the world. When I got to the house, the Dad was a smoker. The dog would steal his cigarette lighter and run off with it. If the Dad didn’t notice, the dog would drop the lighter, bark and pick the lighter back up. The Dad would walk to the cookie jar, the dog would bring the lighter back. The dog would drop the lighter, take the cookie and run off with it. I told them he seems pretty smart to me.
  2. Bell at the door – Had a client come that said one day she was eating supper, the dog rang the bell at the door to be let out. She went to let him out, he ran to the table, jumped up and ate her steak. This isn’t really a redirection issue, just a funny example of a dog really understanding patterns.
  3. Clicker Training – A client came with a 7 month old Brittany Spaniel. Told me he took a clicker class and hated it. I asked him why as I have never heard anyone say they hate a clicker class. It is really about reward training, clicking good behaviour and giving treats, not something most people would complain about. He said his dog was doing a bit of jumping. The trainer told him to tell the dog “Off”, then click and treat. He said the jumping is now way worse than it ever was. I told him, that is because you are rewarding jumping. He said, “That’s what I told the trainer!” But the trainer said, “No, this will work.” I told him, not for his dog, his dog was a little too smart for that. If his dog wasn’t as smart he might have thought just sitting paid really well and done more of that. But his dog was smart enough to recognize the pattern, I jump, you say off, I sit, then I get a treat.

Human example – I had a friend come to visit once, had a 2 year old boy. Ahead of time she went to the dollar store and bought a bunch of presents and wrapped them all up. Whenever he would throw a temper tantrum she would tell him, “If you are good, I will give you a present.” I thought, “Oh no.” I have never seen so many temper tantrums out of a 2 year old in my life. A couple days in, he decided he wanted 2 presents, she said, “No, you only get one.” I thought, good, she is making a stand. Then there was a full blow meltdown. “Ok, if you calm down I will give you 2 presents.” He was excellent at pattern recognition 😉 .

We specialize in these dogs – We love working with dogs that have high pattern recognition. You definitely need to understand a lot more about dog training with these dogs. If you or a friend you know of has a dog that you suspect is very good at pattern recognition and causing issues, we can help. Especially if the dog has been through one or more other dog trainers.

One saying we have written on our training board is, “Is the dog training me or am I training the dog?” It can switch quickly and we train people on what to look for.