Advice from the Cookie Lady

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I hear it all the time, “My dog will do anything for you because you’re the cookie lady.” It’s true and it’s wonderful! I take pride in being a what Kathy Sdao calls “a good feeder.”

Let’s stop the shame game. There is no reason to be embarrassed for treating your dog for good behavior! I recall so many times walking through our local parks with my wonderful Pumpkin, happily heads up heeling by my side—his gorgeous amber eyes looking into mine as we passed a barking lunging dog. The owner of the other dog notice the treats I was delivering and shouted out, “I see your dog has you trained! How many treats does he eat?! That’s bribery” followed by derisive laughter. Well, laugh away I say. If I hadn’t been busy focusing on my gorgeous good dog I would have retorted, “It’s not a lure, it’s reward—big difference.” And I would have been happy to go into details had he been a willing listener. Instead I smiled, nodded and moved on. Now I have time to explain if you’re willing to listen.

Lures can sometimes be used initially to get a behavior started. With a lure, you are using the food (or toy) to manipulate the dog’s behavior. Common are pulling a treat above the head to get a “sit” and bringing a treat from the dog’s nose to yours to get eye contact or a “watch me” cue. Lures precede the behavior. They can get a behavior started but must be faded out quickly or the dog can become dependent on seeing the treat in order to perform the behavior. A reward on the other hand comes after the behavior is performed. Rewards too will be lessened in time, but perhaps never faded out. Before you panic– That wasn’t a typo. Let me explain.
If your employer stopped issuing you a paycheck, how long would you continue to work? Generally speaking, regardless of how much we enjoy our jobs we won’t work for free. Neither do dogs. Gasp! Yes I am saying dogs don’t work simply because they love us. Much of what we ask of dogs is completely unnatural and it is indeed work. Heeling, staying, leaving a treat on her paws and more—very unnatural. We all know how much work it is to modify our own behaviors such as eating healthfully, saving money, or quitting bad habits. Science tells us for humans and animals a reward system increases success in behavior modification programs. Look at your bank or credit card company. Does getting rewards increase your use of the card? Does your employer offer a gift for perfect attendance or safety records? We get tokens, points, and various other rewards for repeating certain behaviors. Dogs get treats and toys. There is no shame in rewarding good behavior! In time, we do put the rewards on a variable schedule so they will not be constant but that’s another topic.

Speaking of rewards, remember it should be something the dog wants. Not what you think is nice. Dry cookies are rarely motivating enough for any dog besides the biggest chow hounds. Having spent decades in human resources, I think of compensation scales. The more complex the work, the higher the pay. I apply the same to dogs. Sit at the door may equal a piece of kibble. Walking past another dog may equal a chunk of fresh chicken. Yes, fresh chicken—from the frig. I often chuckle that the same wonderfully caring clients who labor over reading labels and research the very best food to feed –insisting it have fresh human grade ingredients– are appalled at the thought of using “people food” as treats. Food is food. Fresh, healthy food is a nice reward and addition to your dog’s diet. Be a good feeder. Use food wisely. So often we give dogs table scraps or special treats just because we love them. While there’s nothing wrong with that, simply reserve them for extra special behavior!

A friend I see only seldom comments how her dog will do things for me that she does for no one else even though I may see her only twice a year. And I don’t have to give her treats. But as my friend points out, “she remembers you as the cookie lady.” Yep, she sure does. I have a history with this dog of being a good bet that she didn’t forget.

So my advice to you? BE THE COOKIE LADY!! Or COOKIE MAN! Enjoy the rewards YOU get—good behavior! 

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