• Sandra @ACB

Should We Reward Effort?

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

Effort gets an A+! Or does it? Dog Training is rarely black and white. In the dog’s learning process, there are the desirable moments when the dog is correct, and we reward. There are other (common and normal) moments in the dog’s learning process where the dog is incorrect and we either withhold the reward, or go a step further and correct our dog, depending on how fair it would be to correct. But what about that fabric that fuels learning, that intangible concept of effort.

Do we communicate anything to our dogs about effort? If so, how important is that to the dog’s learning process. If we don’t, should we? How does it make us humans feel when we attempt a task, trying hard, giving everything, sometimes with success and sometimes without, and are acknowledged for trying. Do we care if nothing is said to us?

Innocent mistakes due to the dog’s overzealous desire to please us fall into the same category, in my opinion. How do we communicate those mistakes? Is it appropriate to withhold the reward? Is it fair to correct a dog, who knows the behavior, for an excitatory mistake?

This post is to challenge our approach and viewpoints when we train and communicate with our dogs and to be mindful of the fact that learning does not only entail marking either a clean cut ‘Sit’ or not, but attitude, spirit, and effort also matter towards payment. A dog that tries hard deserves to be acknowledged at times. A dog that makes a mistake because it wants to please us deserves to be acknowledged as well.

There are certainly exceptions and circumstances where we simply need to “get with the program” in order to achieve desired results and thus, recognition of mistakes and effort no longer applies. However, for the most part, I tend to err on the side of the dog to harness that spirit, to make learning a fun experience, and to avoid squishing the dog’s desire to work for me. Back to the human example, being acknowledged for trying hard makes me want to try equally hard or harder the next time.

“Thanks for trying, Rover”!

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