Have you ever wondered how people get their dogs to dive off a dock or run on a treadmill or jump on a trampoline?
Many dogs have adventurous personalities and natural physical abilities that make them want to do what seem to be hard or unusual behaviors. Other dogs learn to do hard or unusual activities with the help of a process known as transfer of value.
Transfer of value, simply put, means taking something your dog already would walk over hot coals for and pairing it with the thing or activity you want your dog to learn to do. It’s that old geometric formula: if A = B and B = C then A = C.
If your dog LOVES treats and you give him lots of treats for getting on a treadmill, he will start to love getting on a treadmill. Once he loves getting on a treadmill, he will start to love walking on a treadmill if he is given treats for doing so – and then walking faster, and then running.
If your dog LOVES tugging on a toy and you tug with him while he’s on a trampoline, he will start to love getting on a trampoline, and then jumping on it a bit, and then jumping on it a lot – with you!
It’s really that simple.
The hard part is deciding how to break down and dissect behaviors into small, doable pieces so your dog will understand what you are trying to teach him.
In agility, for example, when we introduce a dog to the see saw, we don’t have him start out with the it at its full, competition height. First we build a solid foundation by having the dog do a variety of simple activities so he can develop a love for, if not a drive for, the obstacle. He will learn how wide and how long the board is; he will learn how it sounds and how it feels when it tips; he will learn how to initiate and control the tipping action. The exercises are paired with treats or toys, allowing the transfer of value to happen all along the way, so the dog develops a positive association to the see saw and learns to enjoy charging onto it and making it tip. The next step is to generalize the behavior to other see saws with the same transfer-of-value approach.
Transfer of value is an important concept in the dog training process.
If you want to teach your dog to do something out of the ordinary – push along a skate board, ride in a seat or in a basket on your bike, climb a ladder, etc. – think about the process, devise a plan to break the behavior down into small, understandable, rewardable pieces, and have fun teaching your dog something new!