Keep Up the Positive Reinforcement – Good for the Dog; Good for You

I was shocked.

Mike yelled up the stairs to Honey, “Come.”

She just stood there.

Again, “Honey, come.” Nothing.

Finally, I spoke up. “Honey, go find the Dad.” She went running down the stairs.

Honey usually had a rock solid recall, especially in a distraction-free place like home.

Honey the Golden Retriever finds dozing on a chair positive reinforcement.

I find dozing on the chair very rewarding–until the camera comes out.

What was going on? Why was she ignoring my husband? And should I be more irritated with Honey for not listening to a cue she knew so well or with my husband for using a cue without being certain she was going to follow it?

After thinking about it, I realized the problem was mine.

I had become complacent with Honey’s recall and had not been reinforcing it lately. And I had become complacent with my husband’s role in keeping Honey listening enthusiastically by not reinforcing him either.

Positive reinforcement is only necessary for training. But training happens all the time, all life long. And I had forgotten that.

Most of my recall practice with Honey happens outdoors. I want her to listen to me even if there are other dogs, people, or squirrels nearby.

But Honey also has priorities in the house. Honey didn’t fly down to my husband when he called her because she was tired and wanted to go to bed. She’d rather sleep now and make someone take her out in the middle of the night if she felt nature’s call.

If I had realized how big a priority sleep was to Honey, I would have encouraged my husband to grab a squeaky toy or treat before going downstairs and calling Honey to him.

And if I had realized how tired my husband was when he did me the favor of taking Honey out for a break before bed, I would have given him a gentle reminder to reward Honey for going against her sleepy instincts and listening to him.

But Honey and Mike aren’t the only creatures in the house who need positive reinforcement to do what they’re supposed to do.

Mike is the captain at the tiller of a sailboat.

I find sailing with my sweetie very reinforcing. Maybe I should tell everyone I’m not going out on the lake until I get everything on my to do list done.

I’ve been procrastinating something fierce with some important tasks. I’m like a Golden Retriever sitting at the top of the steps refusing to move.

I keep telling myself to toughen up. Just get the tasks done and move on. But that’s not a very compelling argument.

And besides, I can always toughen up tomorrow.

It’s time to find a way to positively reinforce what I need to do. I’ll put a reward beside every item on my to do list.

When I’m not spending time doing the tasks I need to complete, I don’t do really enjoyable things either. I waste plenty of time. But it’s not like I’m doing anything truly pleasurable.

So I have the misery of avoiding my work without filling the time doing anything truly fun.

If I had spent ten minute rubbing Honey’s fur the wrong way when she refused to go downstairs, it would be the same thing. It just doesn’t make sense. And it doesn’t solve the problem.

It’s time for me to step up and bring positive rewards to everyone:

  • Honey for listening to a cue even when she doesn’t feel like it.
  • Mike for remembering that training happens every day.
  • And me for completing items on my to do list instead of wasting time.


Honey the Golden Retriever chews on her Nylabone.

I know you’re looking for positive rewards. But I hope you’re not eyeing my Nylabone as one of them.

After all, positive reinforcement isn’t just good for dogs. It’s good for everyone.

Your Turn: Do you remember to occasionally reward your dog’s listening even when she’s got a behavior down? Do you have any good rewards for yourself?



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  1. We do work on commands sometimes and sometimes there are rewards, but we are usually just expected to know the “drill”. For me, not coming when called is nothing new…I have a stubborn streak but usually I will come. I don’t do well when I am tired though. I have to side with Honey on that one!

  2. Great article! This happens with my dog family too. Once in a while Phoebe or Franny or Izzy just feel a little independent and decide to not listen. Not so different from humans. I swear, the longer dogs as a species hang out in human homes, the more they take on a parallel emotional life! they watch, they learn, they copy and adapt.

  3. We don’t do anything indoors training wise but then again we tend to be good. Have a marvellous Monday and stay cool.
    Best wishes Molly

  4. Torrey has a stubborn streak. She will come when called, most of the time. I always reward her when she has perfect recall. But she does like to push the boundaries occasionally.

  5. My guys are like Honey. If they are sleepy, they really don’t want to bother with going outside. I yell “Treat!” and run for the garage door. They usually beat me there đŸ˜‰

    I have a treat bag attached to my leash and reward recalls, sit/stays everyday. But even with that much practice, a squirrel would still win out over a treat!

  6. its easy to get complacent, I haven’t been practicing my downs outside of class and when daddy tried to do it with me the other day I refused, so its back to the top of the list again *sigh*

  7. It sounds like Honey may have been doing some negative reinforcing.

    Recall in the house is never a problem with multi dogs. No dog wants to miss anything so they all come…even if I call the cat…who seldom comes…

  8. Good points. We are all so busy, and life is full of responsibilities and stresses, that it is easy to let some things slip. I’m thinking of sticking Post-it notes all over the house to remind me to be more positive, consistent and whatever else I need reminding of!

  9. Sue @ The Golden Life says:

    Oh, Pamela, you’ve struck a “raw nerve” here…just kidding, sort of. I’m like you in that I waste time NOT doing what’s on my to do list. My problem is that there’s not a good enough reward out there for me to be lured into doing those tasks! On the other hand, if I’d put aside some of my control freak tendencies, both the dogs AND Sam would enjoy the positive reinforcement more, and be more attentive to the cues/commands. I guess we both have some work to do on ourselves, don’t we? :-)

  10. I reward a recall every single time. IMO, it is the most vital command, and should be the most rewarding for the dog. I’ll sporadically reward all her other commands, but recall (and leave it/drop it) are always enforced with tons of praise, pets and treats.
    Nola’s Mom

  11. I’m sending this to John to read! After 14 months away from the dogs, they stopped listening to him. He asks them to do something, and they look to me, as if to say, “Should we listen to him, lady?” I think he needs to seriously increase his rate of reward just to get back on track with them! And I’m the same way as you: I need a reward to be motivated! We recently started jogging – which I dislike immensely – so I set up a training program, and if we get to the end, we’re going to spend a weekend in New Orleans. That is seriously the only thing that gets me to lace up my sneakers in the morning…

  12. Agreed! We all need positive reinforcement. And not just at home. If our bosses at work would just remember that, we’d all like our jobs a little bit more.

  13. I reward myself all the time. A little stop for froyo is good incentive for me to do the things I’m putting off. (But I probably shouldn’t eat froyo and should probably try to find a non-food reward for myself… but that’s another story.)

    As for the dog, I do forget to work with her. I get quite lazy. Thanks for the reminder to be a bit more diligent. Especially with her recall – something she needs work on anyway!

  14. Sounds like my house.
    I’m retired and have all the time in the world and still don’t do things that need to be done. My “to file pile” is getting higher. My ironing is waiting. And I’m sitting on my MAC. i have to devise a “treat” for me when I complete a task.

    As for BJ, he needs some reenforcement too. He’ll do anything if I offer a treat. The rest of the time, it’s so so.

    Thanks for great reminder post.

  15. Well mom says its all about “age” My recall totally changed as I aged … so watch for that with Honey (Goldens can be tricky). Remember it all about FUN too for both humans n dog(s). Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  16. Sounds like the rewards will be a plenty at your house for now on. It makes a lot of sense to reward ourselves and our loved ones as often as we do our dogs…(like treating yourself with the money you would have used for those cigarettes…)…but it’s easy to fall into a routine and forget to do so.

    I’m a procrastinator by nature, so rewarding myself for getting important stuff done is something I should do more often.

  17. Great article and great reminder! I’m the same way. I forget to reward myself and procrastinate big time but in the end it’s a punishment for me.

    Love how you show that dog training concepts aren’t just for dog training. :)

  18. I’m bad about rewarding the recall but I always reward Delilah for sitting on the edge of the kitchen while I’m working.

    I’ve been slacking off too, wasting time. When you figure out how to fix that, let me know. I need a good kick in the pants.

    • As long as you’re cooking, you probably don’t worry much about Delilah ignoring your calls, eh?

      If we’re both too good at wasting time, do we need to start an accountability club? :)

  19. *sigh* I’m bad about this on all counts. Thanks for the solid reminder.