Dogs Playing outside Dog with tennis balls in mount, dog carrying traffic cone, horse playing in water.

Alternate Reinforcers: from left to right: Water, Tennis Balls, Puddle, Traffic Cone

Walks with my dog are for HER enjoyment.  I love the walks, but my agenda stays at home.  So we “go for a bumble” (Helen Philips of Clicker Gun Dog Centre), just wandering around with no real goal in mind.  As long as she does not pull (or go somewhere unsafe) she is free to sniff and wander to her nose and brain’s content.  Most days it is a good combination of walking and sniffing.  One day we we spent the whole hour in the parking lot of our local park.  She loved it and was exhausted when we were done.

Today Tara chose a completely different route than ever before when we walk out of our home.  Eventually we end up at the dog path we normally walk on, but heading the opposite direction.  Since we walk this path often I thought, let me prompt her to come with me across the street for some “woodsy tree smells” – something which I know she enjoys as a strong reinforcer.  Since she was choosing “new and different” for our walk, I thought I would encourage that choice.

Tara patiently came with me when I said “let’s go” and after we crossed the street, I prompted her to “go sniff” in the wooded lot.  She looked at the ground, looked up at me and just stayed by my side walking nicely in heel position.  After about half a block of her ignoring the “rich smelly woods” I stopped and said “You Choose” which is her cue to pick a new direction.  She immediately went across the street (to my mind was “THE SAME OLD PATH”) but to my dog, it is an information packed, superhighway of all the neighborhood dogs and their people, I was literally keeping her away from exploring.

Yes, I realize now, she loves to smell pine needles and animal tracks and leaves; when we are hiking in woods.  Those smells hold little to no weight with her when compared with our local “dog walking path”

This is proof positive that sometimes the reinforcers we choose just don’t work. It is so important to remember that reinforcers must be salient and desired reinforcers from the dog’s point of view.

Next time your reinforcer doesn’t work, take a look at WHY it might not be the right one in that moment.  You may find out, it was a reinforcer for you and not your dog, or you may find out it was just “wrong place and time” to be utilized.  Our dogs are always watching us and learning, why shouldn’t we return the favor?  I promise you won’t be disappointed.