The Middle Man – making yourself relevant when Positive Reinforcement Training your dog

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THE MIDDLE MAN – Making Yourself Relevant to Your Dog


The Scientific Community created behaviour modification for us which includes positive reinforcement.  For any experiment this method needed to be done by anyone, and had to be measurable and repeatable.  If  Scientist A needs to go away for the weekend, Scientist B must be able to continue on in their place, and get the same results.  Training was a McDonalds of sorts, where anyone could get a mass of behaviours, and they would look exactly the same regardless of who executed the training.

In order to be able to do this, the personal touch had to be lost.  If person A is really flamboyant, yet person B is as exciting as drying paint, their personalities will affect the results.  Clickers, whistles, buzzers and lights going on take personality out of the picture, leaving Scientist A and Scientist B equal, providing they have the same timing. Information was communicated in training in an effective way with no individualization, making it easy to replicate.

Training had been turned into a transaction: Peck the button and get some corn; Swim through the hoop and get a fish;  Sit and get a cookie.

To be repeatable the Scientists removed themselves from the transaction, and became Pez Dispensers, albeit with exceptional timing!  A pigeon keeps pecking if a machine gives them corn.  Positive Reinforcement was created, and owners removed their relationship with their dog from the learning process.

We have created countless dogs who do things only because they want something in return.  We have a “what is in it for me” generation of dogs.  Dog’s need to get paid for their work, and their food rewards are their “pay cheque”, but somehow we forgot all about the love of your job.

Would these dogs continue to listen to our requests if they won the lottery, so to speak?

We now need to teach our dogs to love their work, not love their reward.   The solution is so simple that it is laughable: The Middle Man of the transaction needs to become relevant.

It is really easy to insert yourself back into the equation.  When my dog does as I asked him I let him know “Good”.  My good is at a moderate level of praise.  He did not cure cancer, nor find an alternative to gasoline.  Most people lie to their dogs in praise, and tell their dogs that something which was acceptable was worthy of diamonds.

Your praise needs to come in escalating levels.  If mediocre work gets full levels of praise – your dog will never try harder.  I teach my dogs that the only way to get your reward is to make me happy.  If I say ‘good’, then I am pleased by what you did.  Put some more effort into that last behaviour and you might make me even more pleased.   If you put everything you’ve got into your effort, I will be really, really happy and I will reward you.  It pays to make me happy.

A Sit does not equal a Cookie.  But the perfect Sit will make me happy, and then I will want to reward you.  Mummy being happy gets rewards.  And the only way to get Mummy happy is to try really, really hard.

Making Mummy Happy will in itself become a reward, because it is needed for other nice things to happen.  Now we have created a dog with a work ethic, who actually cares about what the middle man thinks!  Making me happy is always paired with what he likes, which, like the conditioned sound of a clicker, will of itself become a reward.  Then when I need to remove my rewards for moments in time, my praise on its own will make my dog happy and feeling good about what he did.

When praising, my tone and emotions indicate if my dog is on the right path, or not.  They give him hope in his efforts, and keep him trying harder to please me.  It’s a bit like the game ‘Hot and Cold” with me giving feedback whether he is on the right track or not.  My first praise indicates “You are on the right path”.  The second praise indicates “I really like this”.  And the final is “That was exceptional.  I’m so pleased.  Have this reward”.

Escalating Praise for effort given is a gigantic piece missing in most people’s training.  Teach your dog that only maximum effort gets maximum praise.  And only maximum praise gives rewards.  Low and Medium levels of praise means he is on the right track and that you are happy with him but more effort is needed for a reward.    Once you do this, your dog will be working to please you, rather than working for the cookie in your pocket.  While the difference is very subtle, you will appreciate this detail when you find yourself needing a dog who still listens even though you only have yourself and your voice!

Monique Anstee

1633 Kangaroo Road, Victoria, BC



The Naughty Dogge is a dog training school located in Victoria, BC. We truly are dog-trainers and competitors, bringing out the best in any dog, regardless of breed and issues. That means we teach competitive agility, Competition Obedience, Retrain Dog Aggressive Dogs, Teach Puppy Classes and Pet Dogs to be perfect citizens, and work with behaviour problems. There is probably not an issue that we haven”t retrained! This newsletter is copyright to Monique Anstee, May 2012 and may be reprinted with full credit given to Monique Anstee at
You can contact us at 250.590.2664


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