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Using Functional Rewards

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Leash Pulling

A reward is something that is presented after a behavior that increases the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated.  Treats are the most common reward that people use when training their dogs.  Functional rewards meet a dog’s need and teach and maintain behaviors by giving them a reward that they are seeking at that moment.

Dogs acquire behaviors that give them the rewards they desire.  For example, dogs that jump on people are usually seeking attention.  Attention is the functional reward for jumping. 

More examples of functional rewards are:

  • Pulling on the leash – forward motion
  • Growling – people back off
  • Barking in crate – freedom or attention
  • Lunging snapping – distance from a stimulus (dogs, people)

While food rewards are very efficient and effective in luring and reinforcing desirable behavior, if a dog is not calm or attentive, food rewards often do not motivate the dog.  Many dogs will not so much as sniff even the most scrumptious treat if they are excited, agitated, aggressive, reactive, frightened, or anxious.  This often makes training difficult.  By using functional rewards, dogs will present desirable behaviors by using a reward that it is seeking at that moment.

When working with dogs that are reactive to other dogs, you can use functional rewards by exposing your dog to another dog that would trigger a reactive behavior.  However, rather than starting at a distance that would cause the reaction, the trick is to start far enough away, that the dog does not react.  If you capture the precise behavior with a marker (verbal or clicker) your dog will learn that the calm behavior earned the reward.  What’s the reward?  Distance from the other dog!  Continued practice will allow your dog to exhibit the calm behavior while getting closer, because the dog has learned that the reward of distance will follow.

If treats are not working for you, consult a Certified Pet Dog Trainer to help you use functional rewards to elicit desirable behavior from your dog and to set up successful scenarios to train your dog.

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Written by dawnhanna

March 9, 2011 at 9:43 am

Posted in Dog Training

One Response

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  1. Seems like a useful idea to reward a dog for wanted behavior. Thank you for your tips.

    Comfy Control Harness

    April 8, 2011 at 10:34 am


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