The Puppiness Project – Choose Good Rewards

Gretchen Rubin wrote in The Happiness Project about the year she spent “test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy.” The Puppiness Project is my attempt to learn the same from Honey, my Golden Retriever, and Chérie, our visiting Foster Pup.

Golden Retriever being pulled in Doggy Ride Bicycle Cart

Yep, this is definitely a liverwurst trip. We’re going all of 1 mile an hour!

Dog Treats that Motivate

Honey will sit for a nasty, dry dog treat. She’ll lie down or spin. But if I want her to leave a squirrel to come to me or jump onto a wobble board, I need something more motivating.

There’s a hierarchy of rewards in our household.

  • Level 1 – a ball, toy, butt scratches or a dried up dog cookie for behaviors she’s inclined to do anyway
  • Level 2 – cut up hot dog for something she needs to learn but doesn’t find too threatening
  • Level 3 – liverwurst for things that are much more challenging

If I’m asking for too much too soon, or if my rewards aren’t rewarding enough, Honey lets me know. My eager-to-please, compliant pup just says no. Well, she doesn’t “say it.” But I definitely know that’s what she means.

Human Motivation

Humans and canines are quite similar. Neither of us will do things we don’t find rewarding.

Sometimes the only reward is reducing pain. But generally, random positive reinforcement is the way to gets humans and canines to do things. It’s why slot machines are so successful at sucking people’s money away.

I’ve recently changed my work so that I am an independent consultant instead of a regular employee. That means that extrovert Pamela needs to motivate herself to get her work done instead of relying on the social pressures that work so well for her.

It’s very hard for me to work alone.

I need to find better rewards.

True Rewards, Not Shadow Comforts

The writer and comfort guru, Jennifer Louden, calls the rewards we turn to that aren’t truly rewarding shadow comforts.

You know what I mean. When you say to yourself, “I’m so beat and stressed out. I’m just going to watch a little television.” Or, “I’ll stop for fast food on the way home. I deserve the break.” But the shadow comfort is somehow unsatisfying. And it’s not very motivating.

I’ve been spending far too much time with shadow comforts lately.

I find myself suffering from Internet Drift. I spent way too much time rereading Lone Wolf and Cub online. Or I choose that mediocre cookie instead of that really ripe and delicious mango.

No wonder I’m feeling a bit unmotivated. My rewards aren’t nearly rewarding enough.

If surfing online or watching Hulu is a tier 1 reward, I need to figure out my tier 3 rewards. What is my equivalent of liverwurst?

  • Spending a couple of hours at the library
  • Hanging out at the water’s edge
  • Eating really good seafood
  • Accomplishing something really creative

The Dog Leads the Way

Golden Retriever sitting pretty

Sure, you want me to sit pretty in this cushy dog bed for a quick game of tug? I’m game.

To do something hard, Honey wants cooked chicken livers. But she also shows excitement at learning something new. When she understands what I’m asking of her, she gets an extra spring in her step.

She also likes mischief and practical jokes. Keep away is one of her favorite games. Honey is a happy girl who finds using her brain to be rewarding.

Working alone is hard for me. I need to own that and figure out better rewards.

Creativity spawns more creativity. Too much time passively enjoying others’ creativity saps my own.

Time to put away the shadow comforts and seek out the liverwurst of life. At least that’s what Honey would tell me to do.


Welcome to Monday Mischief – The pet blog hop that wraps up the weekend! This Blog Hop is brought to you by Alfie’s Blog, Snoopy’s Dog Blog, My Brown Newfies and Luna, A Dog’s Life and you can read more about how to link up here.

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  1. Your liverwurst tip has been a godsend for our recall work. The dogs really love it and I use that for the tier 3 reward. They do get regular treats for when I’m training other behaviors but for me the recall is imperative and the liverwurst works. And it’s cheap. You can’t beat that.

    Yesterday I spent a good part of the day working on my blog, but I did find myself drifting off and wandering away. It’s hard to be motivated. Perhaps thoughts of that sailboat will help. :-)

  2. Very insightful. Funny how I’ve always understood that Bella needs high-value treats to over-come her reticence to certain things but never applied that to my own life. Hmmm. I’m not even sure I’ve ever identified by not-so-high-value treats, never mind highly prized ones…. Thanks for giving me something to think about today.

  3. Oh Pamela, I swear you always nail it on the head for me. lol Being a stay-at-home mom, I am horrible about managing my time and being motivated to do so. I have no liverwurst in MY treat basket. Yet I don’t think twice about getting out hot dogs or cheese for the dogs when I really want them to learn something. I guess I never thought about rewarding myself with something I love it I the housework. lol I agree with Leslie, you’ve given me something to think about. :)

  4. I totally hear you–those “shadow comforts” are so tempting, but so unfulfilling. It would be awesome if I could replace 4 hours of perusing celebrity gossip with a 15-minute “vegan liverwurst break,” but I’m not sure what that would be for me! Your post is great food for thought though–I promise I’ll think about it over the next 2 hours of browsing dog blogs!

  5. Liverwurst! What a great idea. My dogs will do nearly anything for a Jones Natural Chew beef jerky or pig ear.

  6. Woof! Woof! Yah! being CREATIVE … Golden got a very SMART brain so creativity will be an ongoing task. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  7. I couldn’t agree with you more! Great post!

  8. ahhh yes, great reminder for dogs and people. brooks is highly motivated to be good, food or no food. he’s the kind of dog who is crushed at the word “no.” kelly isn’t so worried if i say “no” she wants to do what she wants to do. her liverwurst reward is cheese. that usually works.
    for me, i think i respond pretty well for a pancake.

  9. Toys are always a good reward and we’re giving one away today – be sure to stop by and check it out!

  10. Beagle Brigade called me years ago about Shiloh; was he food motivated? Sadly, I had to say “no,” which seems like an oxymoron in Beagledom: a non-food motivated Beagle! So finding something to motivate him through the years has tested my/our creativity – he mostly likes to be petted :). A family took him through training and his CGC test, which he passed with flying colors though they didn’t test for staying home!
    Liverwurst is fabulous; I’ve used braunschweiger, too (both pretty messy but effective).
    LOVE seeing Honey in the cart on the MOVE, even at 1 mile an hour. WOOHOO!

  11. Hi Y’all!

    Just hoppin’ by to say “hi”.

    I love treats but have food allergies…limits the goodies available to me.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  12. It’s like you read my mind again! My post tomorrow seems a lot like yours. I’ve been thinking that I need to find better motivators for myself, as well! :)

  13. Look at Honey going for a ride! Love it!

  14. Awesome! It looks like Honey is doing well riding in her little bike cart. Linus definitely has the tiered rewards. His tier 3 are the stinkiest salmon treats you ever smelled, but he loves them.

    I’m not really sure what my liverwurst or stinky salmon treats are, but like Honey would tell you or Linus me I need to find the stinky salmon treats of life!

  15. Cali is at the age where every treat is the yummiest thing she has ever eaten! I don’t think I have quite figured out what my big reward is, I’m sure that’s the problem! :)

  16. Great post Pam! I’ve been feeling a bit uncreative myself lately. But I’ve been trying to combat it by staying off the internet a lot more than normal. It’s hard, because when I do go online, like today, I feel I need to catch up on every blog post that I missed, and I end up spending more time here on the internet than I planned. It is tough to find balance, and tough to find ambition sometimes. I like your idea of trying to find rewards for myself to get myself out of my slump. :-)

  17. Oh I am so very glad it’s not just me! I feel like I’ve been “rewarding” myself a whole lot, but those rewards are more guilt inducing that pleasure giving. I wonder what my three tier rewards would be? I’m going to have to put some serious thought into this. Thanks for the idea!