Dogs go to where they are rewarded. Well, who wouldn’t, really?
But where dogs are concerned, a quick example happens when you feed your dog; if you feed him his meals in the same place every day, he will learn go to that spot at meal times. Some dogs will even go the spot, without being told to do so, and wait (mostly patiently) while you prepare their food.
Another example: If you keep treats in a jar on the kitchen counter, and you regularly give your dog his treats near the jar, your dog will go to that spot whenever you are heading in that direction and/or whenever he thinks you’re going to give him a treat.
The fact that dogs go to where they are rewarded is an important concept in many of the training endeavors and the activities we do with our dogs.
With puppies, we use it to teach some of the impulse control exercises; in agility, we use it to help dogs learn to hit contact zones and complete weave poles no matter where the handler is on course; when tracking, we use it to help dogs learn how important the item is that they find on the ground; in obedience, we use it to teach dogs where heel position is and how to perform go backs and how to find the correct scent article; in nose work, we use it to help dogs learn to search for and alert to the odor; in search and rescue, we use it to teach the dog to stay with the victim; when training tricks, a properly placed treat is what helps dogs learn to crawl, roll over, back up, etc.
ecessary, every-day behavior where this practice is super important is when you teach your dog to heel or walk with good manners. If you treat your dog when he is moving along beside you in the way that meets your criteria (yes, it is essential to have defined criteria for each behavior you want your dog to learn), you will not only reward the good behavior of walking next to you and not pulling but you also will show your dog that you value him being on one side of you (as opposed to criss-crossing back and forth in front or behind you). Given the fact that behavior that’s rewarded is repeated, your dog will learn it’s a waste of time to be on the “wrong” side of you, and he will start to default to the side and the area next to you where the all good stuff happens.
Another example to demonstrate the importance of proper reward placement/delivery is when you teach your dog to lie down. If you want your dog to understand that down means lay with elbows on the floor, be sure you reward your dog when his elbows are touching the floor – not before he gets completely down and not as he pops up to take the treat from you, which is what commonly happens.
In so many activities and areas of training, placement of reward (where the reinforcement happens) is a big deal; carefully placed/delivered treats (or toy play) give your dog additional information: he gets a reward not only for doing something but also for where he does that something, and that can make training anything, but especially those needed, every-day, good-manners behaviors such as heel, down, go to your bed, stay, much easier for the dog to understand and learn.
Drawing from my chicken training days, I am mindful of what I learned from the famous Bob Bailey: “click for behavior; treat for position”. In other words, you will get a bigger bang for your training buck when you not only reward a behavior but when you also reward the behavior where you want it to occur. That’s pretty much how I taught my chicken to weave way back when – and how I’ve trained a few of my English Toy Spaniels to weave more recently – so I know how reliable the theory is!
So when training your dog, pay attention not only to when but also and to WHERE you reward him. You just might see him learn a behavior more quickly, more reliably, and with more clarity.