When a baby first tries to stand, we reward them. We use praise and smiles and love. As they take their first steps, we try to record it for posterity reasons, a parent is away working, grandparents live in a different town, state or country, we record it for their 21st birthday party to show them how far they have come. Then they start to not just take small, clumsy, dangerous looking steps, where it looks like the will crack their head on the table every time, but they take balanced, deliberate steps and pretty soon, walking becomes the norm. We no longer reward for the effort of standing, but the effort of walking. And then walking itself, not just trying to walk. Not the effort, but the actual distance. Can we walk to the shops? Then we get them an ice cream. Follow us around the supermarket, and be good, and you get another little surprise reward. Pretty soon, they are learning to run, controlled, faster and further. As they continue to get better, they win awards at school for sprinting, or cross country. All of this started when we rewarded for effort. The effort of trying to stand up, then walk, then run, then run faster, then running with heart.
When Oprah gave people a new car for being at her show, all you needed to do was to be there. You didn’t have to do anything. Imagine if the people who were nicely dressed, were on time, clapped the loudest and let others get to their seats easily were rewarded with a car. Would that encourage others to be better? If everybody gets a car, why would people try to be better. Did the people who went to the next show and got a crappy book leave happy? Not if the same behaviour (just being there) got a lesser reward. There may be the idea, and it is justified, that, oh, I didn’t get a car this time, but I will get it next time. But that will only work if there are cars being handed out often enough. But in doing so, you are certainly not encouraging better behaviour. Just a bigger audience.
If you had to give a waiter $5 for every person on your table, why would they give you better service? Will they go beyond the call of duty? Doubtful, why would they? The market is the same. This is often why we ask, before we go on a trip overseas if you should tip.
One of the most difficult things in dog training is understanding when to reward your dog and how often it should happen. And also, what value of reward. And how much to give. In the beginning, we reward for everything. A little step towards what we want. I call it a progression. Get a little closer to the goal, another reward. Pretty soon, we stop rewarding for just the effort and we start to require more from the dog. Not just to come back to us, but to come back to us quickly. And from higher level distractions. One of the things that we do is we continue to reward for everything the dog does. Even when they can do the behaviour easily and we give them nothing to improve on. If everything they do is good, then nothing is good. There is no distinction at all. And if you give too much reward for something easy, why would you try any harder. Why would the dog give anymore than it should. If everyone gets a trophy for participating, why would you give any effort at all? They just did a recall and it was a 4 out of 10? Make sure you don’t give them the same reward that they would have got for a 10 out of 10. Don’t inflate the market. If you do, they will never improve.
Reward the good stuff, and then reward the better stuff.