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.
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.
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.
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?