Bring your own rock – weird rewards in dog training


ReggieOct282013 005Hurry up! Circle the wagon and bring your own rock.

Rocks, paper, digging, kid’s toys, socks, sniffing, horse apples … there are all sorts of favorite things for which dogs will do work. Often instead of using these currencies people try to steal them or restrain the dog from them or chase the dog to get them or haphazardly keep them up away from them, only increasing their value, but missing out on the work exchange.

If the desired item has a certain work requirement to achieve it, the focus changes to the work requested … do this and then you are released to get that, OK now what will you do to have the joy of being released to find another. Also the benefit of lessening its value makes the whole interaction more reasonable, which is important since rocks, smells, digging, etc. can be found almost everywhere.

Yup, it’s true, sometimes I release my dog to go get a horse apple.

Fear of the dog swallowing an inedible? Well the more things are grabbed away without a trade, the more likely the dog is to gulp them down to keep them. It works a lot better to teach, ‘bring me’ and then praise and trade if they really can’t have whatever they had. And youngsters chasing after the puppy with a toy in his mouth – great game, not great training. Expect more stolen, chewed toys in the future.

The most popular weird fixations – paper (tissues, toilet paper), pens/pencils, Barbie dolls, remotes, and phones. These aren’t interesting things for dogs except that people overreact and value them, and so they become valuable. I think that’s interesting.

And then there’s rocks, gravel and dirt. Reggie came with a fixation on rocks (mostly nice sized round ones) and Jazz, who wants anything that another dog has, briefly started carting them. She wasn’t hooked, I ignored her, so she quit. For Reggie I’ve made rock play contingent on doing control cues and the fixation has waned, but he still can get enthralled if given encouragement.

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