When people are working on obedience training with their dog they usually think about using treats, toys, or attention as rewards. Don’t get me wrong, if any or all of those things motivates your dog, then by all means use them. But for those times when you don’t have a toy or treat handy, try using a Life Reward. All you Lab owners may be wondering why you can’t just give the dog a little attention as a reward, but not all dogs work that way. In fact, some dogs don’t see attention as much of a reward! And trust me, if your pup doesn’t think following a command is worth the reward, then chances are he/she isn’t going to do what you ask very often.
Most of the time people are already using Life Rewards in some form or another but don’t quite realize their true potential. For instance, if you have your dog sit and remain seated before you let him out the door, then you just rewarded the sitting and waiting behavior. In this scenario you have taught your dog that sitting and waiting gets him the great reward of the outside world. In this case, chances are pretty good that going outside is more exciting than any treat you can offer, so use it.
The same can be done if your dog loves going for car rides. I learned early on that one of my dogs, Niko, absolutely loves the car. So I used that love to help train his loose leash walking and his down stay. For the walking, I started by remotely unlocking the car, a sure sign to Niko that a car ride was in his future, which always gets him excited. Then I began walking towards the car and continue that way until he started to pull ahead. Once he pulled ahead, I’d turn around and start again. At first this made me quite dizzy but soon Niko learned that to get to the car he needed to walk nicely.
Once his walking was mastered I started to work on his down stays using the car. I started the same way by alerting him to the impending car ride. Then I’d put him in a down stay and walk towards the car. Every time he got up, I would go back and put him back in a down stay and start again. At first, once I made it to the car and he stayed down, I then released him and let him jump in the car.
Once he mastered that level, I increased the difficulty by putting him in a down stay and then walking to the car and opening the door, which proved to be a challenge. Once he stayed in his down with the door open for an undetermined amount of time, I released him and let him jump in the car.
These exercises helped teach him how to walk on a loose leash and perfect his down stay faster than anything else primarily due to the value of the reward. Like I said before, at times a Life Reward is of much higher value to your dog than any food or attention.
I mentioned going outside and using the car as a Life Reward but basically anything that gets your dog excited can be used. For instance try using your dog’s favorite sniffing spot, walking up to the dog park, heading to the door to go outside, before getting on the couch or bed, before jumping in a stream or lake, etc. Just take note of the times your dog starts pulling or jumping in anticipation and instead of just letting him/her get to whatever it may be, have him/her sit, down, or walk with a loose leash first. Before you know it your dog will be sitting or walking nicely during situations that previously were a bit crazy and hard to control.