Are You Loved By A Wiener?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

While away teaching during this past week I had more than one student question the need to reward their dog with anything other than praise. One woman argued her case by saying “I want my  dog to love me more than a wiener.”  My immediately thought was how strange that you are loved by a wiener in the first place, but I guess that is none of my business (okay, little joke, no harm intended:). The very next day I had a gentleman ask me something similar. He too, thought that praise should be enough for any dog and wondered why I kept insisting that people reinforce their dogs with a toy or food. He assured me his dog loved it when he praised him. I asked him if his dog loved his praise so much he would decline chasing a rabbit for the chance to be praised by him.  Both are rewards to a dog, there is no doubt about it, but one definitely has more value. I think the key to my great relationship with my dogs, and the reason my dogs do so well in competition, is that my training is all about the appropriate use of different values of reinforcement and the restriction of that reinforcement should my dogs make incorrect choices during training. If your goal is to have a high level of success with your dog and you do not become masterful at controlling your dog’s access to reinforcement, you will be forced to rely on a significant amount of punishment in your training to achieve results, that just isn’t an option for me. My dogs are never physically corrected, nor are they yelled nor  intimidatingly “glared” at if they choose inappropriately. They have never heard the word “NO!” nor understand what it means if someone makes one of those loud guttural aaah!”  or “eeerr” sounds at them. This gives them the confidence to be who they really are, and to run as fast as they can in agility. My dogs are not unruly, out-of-control house dogs either, quite the opposite, if you have met them you would know they are likely the most well behaved family pets you have ever known. They do what I ask the moment I ask, without hesitation. Since I do view all good dog training as the manipulation of value, I really do not expect the level of excellence one would achieve with praise alone would ever approach that you would see from using an entire spectrum of reinforcement that your dog views as having great value. Plus I can’t imagine the training would be nearly as fulfilling to the trainer. After all of the years teaching seminars I guess I started taking things for granted. You see most of the folk that attend my seminars are more often than not “already converted” so mostly I am preaching to the choir (in that they have heard a similar philosophy to mine prior to coming to me). It was enlightening to be brought back to a reality where some people actually think dogs follow different laws of reinforcement than other animals. I tried to explain the fact that we, as humans, all have different values to that which we view as reinforcement. I find it very reinforcing when I am away teaching, when people do things like finding me restaurants with vegan options, I also enjoy teaching people that can laugh at themselves, as well as those that tell me what a wonderful time they had at my workshop. All of that has reinforcement value to me. However if I didn’t get paid at the end of workshop I certainly wouldn’t be in a hurry to return for a second engagement!  What about you? Would you get up every morning and hustle yourself off to work if your boss told you last week he had decided he would no longer be giving you a pay cheque, but promised to compliment your hair style and dress choices on a regular basis? I somehow doubt it. Then how can it be reasonable to expect that a dog should work for a similar pay scale?  I am sure your dog does find your praise and attention very rewarding, I know my dogs do, but it certainly can’t complete with my attention PLUS a tug session, a chunk of meat or the chance to dive into a pool. I know many lure-based trained dogs do work more slowly or opt out of work completely, if they don’t see or smell a treat near by. But that is not the case with properly trained dogs in a reinforcement-based program. The value of the reward has been transferred into the work for these dogs. Yes now that they are trained my dogs could work for long stretches of time without ever seeing a cookie or a tug toy. I would imagine I could do it for weeks, if not months if I chose to, but why would I? If you follow good dog training practices, it is highly unlikely that any dog will ever shut-down, leave work or seek out reinforcement from someone or something other than you. And given a choice I know my dogs love me more than any wiener capable of similar emotions:). So don’t cheap-out on your dogs, they deserve better from us all. Be appropriate but generous with your use of both praise and other higher value rewards.

Today I am grateful for the students that are not afraid to question what they are being taught and are willing to risk the embarrassment of being different, in order to seek the answers that will further along their dog training understanding (provided, of course, that in the end they agree with me and do as I suggest:)).



  1. I was once told by a handler in a clinic that the dog’s reward at the end of a sequence was that the dog then got the opportunity to sit and look at the handler’s face. No food or toys, just look at the momma smile this rather fake smile. And, yes, this handler (and group of folks in general) did indeed use a LOT of physical punishment. (And no, this person wasn’t especially good looking, so no great reward in looking at the momma! Ha!)

    I was sad for the dog, but the best way to help people understand how & why to use reinforcement with value rather than praise & punishment is through explanation and demo, and not to be nasty or belittling about it. It is all about science, really, and not about how I feel personally about it. So, in teaching, I don’t make it personal about the handler, and they are soooo much more receptive to hearing it that way. Thankfully Pavlov and Skinner are at all of my clinics, so I have a pretty strong team with me at all times 🙂

    The results are amazing and pretty immediate for most dogs and handlers. I am a big fan of letting the results do the talking… and the Say Yes program has produced ssome impressive results!

    Working with folks who don’t understand how to ‘manipulate value’ as Susan said is a common thing when out on the road teaching, so I have become a better instructor thanks to these folks. I also remind myself of the saying “Violence begins where knowledge ends” (Lincoln? Or Obama, ha ha ha) and that helps me remember that I was hired to give these folks the knowledge so they can end the violence, and it always comes back to manipulating value (OK, I’ll be stealing that phrase now, thank you very muchly.)


  2. What a fantastic post, Susan! Your best one yet! And I didn’t even have to pay for it! 😉 That’s reinforcing for me!

  3. awesome, awesome post.

  4. Great Post!

  5. yay, for give yer dog a cookie. Nice post.

  6. The naughty photographer in me is snickering at the tone of your post, Young Lady, but when I’m done laughing, I’ll be applying this post to the things I say to my own beginner students. Punishment has the nastiest way of leaking in to just “what we do” – brainlessly, reflexively, without thought to what is caused. I continually analyze what I say when I talk about the fallout of P+, and your writings helps so much. Thank YOU.

  7. I am convinced that having an opportunity to watch how beautifully you and your dogs work together would be the most powerful motivator for anyone, like seeing is believing.

    How can one not marvel.

    I took great confidence from what Greg Derrett said on his foundation DVD, that some people mistrust the clicker for example, but this is out of ignorance.

    Your 2X2 ebook was well worth it for the chapter on the difference between luring and shaping. How many people put down food rewards as some sort of low down “luring” with a sausage! (disrespectful of a dog’s true skill to tell the difference between right and wrong)

    Lucky me, it just happens that an affectionate name I use with my dog is “li’l weiner”.

  8. This is music to my ears, deaf to several trainers I know unfortunately. I wish I had you nearby when they rant on the force method being a necessity to make sure the dog knows he has to perform, that its not an option. I guess the sheer joy of working doesnt rank as an answer when I say it.

    Now if I say Susan Garrett doesnt do it that way, I can hear their reply now that she has Border Collies.

    Well I have a Springer and I can see in a short time the difference in her from using more shaping and working on my timing of reinforcement. Oh and shutting up with the negatives, there are no mistakes – well there are – mine!! I was not one of the correction based trainers but without realizing it, I was more negative than I thought. And I have stopped cheerleading too. I had probably a lot of everything in there. But opening my eyes and getting some amazing feedback has clinched it for me more than ever that this is the way I want to train.

    I must share this with the blog group. I was training my male Springer for his CDX several years ago. In class, we were doing some proofing of the dumbbell retrieve. The teacher put out a terrific toy as a distraction and told me to throw the dumbbell and ask him to retrieve it. So I threw it and my dog brought back the lovely toy, quite thrilled with his new treasure. So my teacher, firm believer in the ear pinch, said now if you had an ear pinch you could correct him. Now what are you going to do. I said well I didnt click and reward the retrieve so next time he will retrieve the dumbbell. My classmates thought I was dreaming. Well I threw the dumbbell, same toy out there and sure enough, my dog retrieved the dumbbell 🙂 Whataboy!!! Big reward too and not just a pat on the head, yummy treat for that one. I did feel like I was an anomoly in the class for not pushing like told too and that my argument seemed weak. But I have to be true to myself and now I am at a better place that I dont feel the need to explain, although maybe I am right now. Who knows. Rambling over.

    Love to hear back on the Border Collie reference Susan.

    Super excellent post.

    • How about the fact that have owned and trained more Jack Russells than any other breed and I trained to JRT to their Utility in obedience, never using an ear pinch. Both dogs scored 200 at the national specialty in obedience and both HIT winners. Or what about all of my students that have had success with everything from a Pug to a Whippet to everything in between, again working the same program I am. But quite honestly it wouldn’t matter what breed I owned, as people that are physically punishing their dogs will always have to justify the success of someone that doesn’t as an anomaly. If they didn’t they would have to admit they are being unnecessarily mean to their dog and when it comes right down to it, we are all dog lovers at heart, and no one would want to be cruel if they didn’t think it was “necessary.”

  9. Ok Susan, THAT was funny!!! I gotta remember that one, we get that all the time from the “pet” people here. I want permission to copy your comments and print it and put it in our handouts on the first class! No REALLY…I DO!! You are always so good at saying stuff in a way that makes people go hmmmm, and then laugh at themselves, and then change their minds to your way of thinking…

    Thanks for the AM chuckle:o)


  10. Thanks Susan, that was well said.

    I judged a Pug in obedience once, cute as a button, happy as could be. Must have been your student 🙂

    We have to find time in your schedule for you to do a seminar in Ottawa!!! And I have come to you and will definitely be back. Next time I will have to come to a camp, any chance we can come just for a weekend if its a four day one? My vacation days are running low.

  11. This is my first time commenting on your blog, and I just wanted to take the opportunity to say thank you for taking time out of your day to write these wonderful posts. I am currently training a Sheltie and we are making lots of progress in my eyes. However, one of our down falls has been keeping bars up. I have never been a big fan of punishing her for a dropped bar as long as she was trying to work for me. I have had trainers that said, “as soon as she drops a bar down her and put her in her crate.” I admit, I reluctantly did, one time. Then vowed I wouldn’t do it again. She didn’t understand what she did wrong, she was trying. From then on I simply ignore the dropped bar, set it again, and when she clears it we party and play, and you know what… she is dropping less and less bars. That was a long story to say thank you for reinforcing to me that I am doing the right thing for us. Thank you again and have a great day! 🙂 ~Jessica

  12. I have to chime in here too… It seems the people with high-drive dogs feel the need to just say “Good dog!” and that is good enough. Drives me crazy!! You have written my feelings so eloquently!! I get the “But you have Kelpies” all the time as if my breed makes them more willing to work and yet Kelpies have much more of their own mind than a lot of breeds, imo. I would consider them more self-serving than other dogs that I have owned… but then this is not breed specific as we all know. People make excuses.
    I use your words saying that SG and GD use a lot of “placement of reward” and if you can’t throw a toy or are able to treat with their head facing straight or at a target plate then what in the heck do you use instead? That normally gets them going.
    In saying that… I was not a good trainer for my girl in the beginning and let her choose her rewards (as you will see shortly in Van!) and I take full blame for that but did manage to train a ball and she will now take food. My three dogs since then play with anything. Wish I could bring them all so you could see the progression of my understanding as each dog has developed better skills than the last. This works really well in my classes as I can say it and then they can see the proof of how past lack of understanding makes a totally different work ethic than the younger ones who had the benefit of my seminars.. and of course Kim Collins. Where would I be without her seminars? I hate to think about it..
    Looking forward to Vancouver with my older girl who I am convincing that lack of reward in the past will not happen again! And then you can see my younger boy who was trained with 2×2’s, toys and shaping and tugs and really had the benefit of a “system” and has never heard the word “No” and then I hope I shall redeem myself, LOL. (I should point out that my older girl does very well in spite of my lack of understanding… it is just too funny to see how each dog progressed and is a direct reflection of my training practices at that time).

    Kathy Smith
    Vancouver Island

  13. Fantastic post Susan, you have written so many that are brilliant but this has to be my favourite. Thank you for your blog, it is the first thing I check each day when I get online.

    New Zealand

  14. I guess this is as good a time as any to ‘fess up. Ya know all those “Say Yes coins” that seem to go missing at the end of camps? Well, I was so proud of myself at Skills Camp in Dec. that I couldn’t bear putting them in bags for the raffle. I brought them back to the US and have them lined up along the edge of my bedroom mirror to remind myself of the power of well-earned rewards!

  15. It is quite refreshing to me, as a dog trainer who uses a science-based reward training system for tons of dogs, pets and performance dogs alike, to hear that even “the greats” get this question posed to them from time to time. It is shocking at times how many people think dogs are the exception to the laws of learning.

  16. Susan. Girl. You rock. What an amazing post. Amen sista. Sarah Dow, Texas

  17. Powerful words, Susan, in a great post. Now, please come back to Houston to spread the gospel!!!


  18. No, but a nice chocolate cake finds me mildly amusing.

    Thank you for the daily butt kick. Very useful with a new dog’s arrival imminent.

  19. Fluffy Story ahead 😉

    When I first saw Susan Garrett at an obedience seminar 10 years – I never considered what breed of dog she trained or worked (she demo’d with her own dogs, and then a crazy golden and a poodle) – I was just lost in the moment of watching her train the coolest “dogs” with the coolest behaviours!

    It wasn’t till two years later when I took my own Springer to Susan seeking help with a motivation challenge. (she taught me crate games in ½ an hour 🙂 I took that lesson and never left Say Yes Dog Training! I can’t help but think that if I had thought – she has border collies she can’t help me…how limiting that would have been to my learning and journey through dogs! I’ve been around Susan’s program now for 8 years and I can confidently say Susan gets the same joy from working with humans raising a Boston Terrier a Mastiff or a Border Collie!

    The difference in Susan’s programs from others “reinforcement based programs” is its emphasis on helping humans drop their limiting thinking on what dogs find reinforcing and what a wide range of things, activities that dogs find reinforcing and have “value.” Then showing people how to maximize there use in training. Sometimes leading to quite entertaining training sessions! (As seen on Susan’s blog on the use of tables for teaching – the girls to wait their training turn ) All with the added bonus of building a great relationship between dog and handler because they are in control of what the dog finds valuable. As seen in her own relationships with her dogs but also repeated by many of her students!

    When I read these comments…one of the things I remembered when I first met Susan was – she wanted to touch dogs and trainers throughout the world – to help them learn a better way to train dogs and make dogs lives better – I think Susan has found another forum to do that – when I read the comments from people on this blog – I realize she has touched thousands (+) of people since November 2008! There are no limits to Susan’s thinking, learning, teachings and sharing. I know now that her goal of better lives for dogs is closer than ever because she wouldn’t be limited!

    Lynda Orton-Hill

  20. WOW !! Awesome !!!!!!!FREE training tip #5 !!!! I am a newbie that hasn’t even entered any trials yet, and have been so worried about this as I too am dyslexic ! You are indeed, THE BOMB , Susan, for sharing this valuable tip !!!
    I’m thinking I should stop reading this blog, because when I finally enter competition with Stella, after all this valuable info, there will be NO EXCUSES for being a dud !!
    Todays blog was sooooo good !
    LOLOL !!
    Thanks again !!!

  21. Convincing those who use lure- or punishment- or intimidation-based training methods will always and forever be a struggle. Surround yourself with like-minded people and go out and SHOW them what this method can do; the proof truly is in the pudding.

    Watching Susan, Lynda, and Tracy just “be” with their dogs is truly inspirational — they are, quite simply, having a blast, enjoying their dogs for the wonderful creatures they are and reveling in the opportunity to work in partnership with them.

    As I embark on my journey with my new puppy, I will be working to keep that image at the very front of my mind.

  22. I am loved by a sausage, not a wiener!

    Nancy and Jimmy Dean

    • Ok, that is funny Nancy, but only to those that live in the USA and know that Jimmy Dean is a brand name of sausages:)

  23. Our relationship with our adolescent dog turned around completely after one night with a reward-based trainer. The puppy thought she’d hit the jackpot and we suddenly remembered how much we loved her. Your articles are a joy; thank you so much for reminding us that it is our relationship with our dog that determines their behavior.

    Another member of the choir in Reno, Nevada!

  24. Great post Susan.
    I just started as a dog trainer and I must say, owners are very reluctant in believing that training with a treat is the best way. No matter how much I ask them to leave the dog meals to after the training, they don’t take me serious. It’s very frustrating having to train a full stomach dog that has no motivation at all and just wants to sleep for the rest of the day.
    I’ve made a decision, in these few months that I’ve been training as a pay job, that, no matter how dificult it can be to sell the ideia, I’ll not train anyone’s dogs with positive punishment and corrections.
    The greatest task, as always, is training and chaging the behavior of the human, not the dog. I just hope that this is a task that I’m up to 🙂

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