No doubt you’ve heard of the term “R&R,” as in “I just need some rest and relaxation.” And who doesn’t need a little R&R these days? We work too hard, sometimes we play too hard, and often in the end it’s debatable whether we’re any better for it.
Well, your dog needs a little R&R in his or her life, too. I don’t mean rest and relaxation here, although it certainly is true that dogs do need those things to function properly, as well. What I’m really referring to is “Recognition and Reward.” More specifically, your dog or dogs need to be recognized for good behavior and rewarded for it, too.
You may have heard this concept referred to as mark and feed, or click and treat, or maybe under some other term, too. Essentially, it means to identify the moment your dog is doing something correctly and then offer a reward, or some other thing of value, to your dog.
Recognize and reward might look something like this: Dog sits down when asked, you say “Yes!” and then you give your dog a small “pea-sized” morsel of food. Or instead, you might say “Good” to recognize the behavior, and then throw a favorite toy as the reward.
Remember, treats aren’t the only form of reward. Your dog enjoys other things, too, besides treats. He or she might love the opportunity to play with you (like a nice game of tug), or your dog might enjoy the chance to go outside and splash in a kiddie pool, or many dogs just like the chance just to interact with their owners (like in the form of petting and verbal praise). However, the formula of recognize plus reward equals fostering good behavior in your dog.
And there’s no better reason to recognize and reward your dog than for doing absolutely nothing. What? Reward my dog for doing nothing? That’s correct! Sometimes the best way for dog-owning humans to get some R&R for themselves is to recognize when our dogs are being calm and then offer a nice reward for it. How many times have you come home from work and were just simply exhausted? All you want to do is flip on the evening news and catch up on the day. But the dog is chewing up the curtains, stealing dinner off the counter and nipping at the childrens’ ankles. It’s times like these that we tend to only notice our dogs’ stand-out bad behaviors.
Try changing your focus from seeing all the bad things to trying to identify and reinforce the times your dog is not causing trouble. For example, when sitting on the couch, try tethering your dog to one of the couch legs by a leash, or step on your dog’s leash so that they can’t stray far from you. (If your dog will lay down near you and relax on its own, then you may not need to use a tether or leash.) Your dog will soon realize that there’s nowhere to go. Wait for your dog to lay down and relax, then in a low, slow and even voice, say “Good” and then slowly deliver a piece of kibble to your dog. If your voice and treat delivery are too upbeat or fast, chances are your dog will pop right back up from excitement and you’ll have to start all over again.
Another great idea for recognizing and rewarding your dog comes from a great dog positive dog trainer, Kathy Sdao, and her book, “Plenty in Life is Free.” She recommends placing 50 pieces of kibble in a bowl on the countertop each day – or somewhere out of reach of your dog – and make it a point to recognize and reward your dog 50 times a day for good behavior. Remember, the more a behavior is rewarded, the more likely that behavior is to increase – for good or bad.
It may sound like a lot at first, but you’ll be surprised at how easy it can be when you recognize that your dog isn’t bad all the time. Ironically, if you can incorporate your dog’s recognition and reward R&R training into your own rest and relaxation R&R times, you might discover it’s a much more enjoyable time for everyone, and hopefully you’ll have a much calmer and relaxed dog, too.