How Can I Learn to Pet with a Purpose?

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All throughout history, dogs have been selectively bred to work side-by-side with humans. For instance, Rottweilers pulled carts laden with meat to the market; Dalmatians ran alongside horse-drawn coaches and Saint Bernards rescued those unfortunate people in need of help when crossing the treacherous Saint Bernard Pass. Most dogs had a job in the past and were eager to perform it because they were selectively bred for special tasks over the years.

Today, most dogs are retired and live in homes where they may receive insufficient mental stimulation or exercise. Dogs who are fortunate enough to have dedicated owners capable of providing loads of exercise and mental stimulation are most likely to be happy and relaxed animals. On the other hand, dogs with owners who have little or no time for training and exercising are often existing in a restless state of mind.

While a pet with a purpose program is not to be used as a replacement for exercise and mental stimulation, it does help dog owners incorporate training into their dogs’ lives by using life rewards.

What are life rewards? Life rewards encompass anything dogs find naturally rewarding. Dogs basically did not have to learn to like these things; instead, they were appealing from the start. From a dog’s perspective, a life reward may be food, attention, play, social encounters with other dogs, or access to a yard where the dog can romp, sniff and relieve itself.

Among the many life rewards dogs find appealing is touch. Most dogs love to be petted and many seek physical contact with their owners every chance they get. Petting with a purpose would entail asking a dog a behavior before being pet. This is similar to the “learn to earn” or “say please” training program advocated by many dog trainers.

There are several benefits to teaching the pet with a purpose program. For instance, if your dog nudges at your hands or barks for attention, you can curb these behaviors because you are training an alternate behavior for your dog to perform. If you ask for a sit before petting, your dog will learn that this is a default behavior to adopt instead of the barking and pushy nudging. Put simply, your dog learns self-control and how to ask.

A pet with a purpose program is based on the Premack principle, which states that more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors. This principle is often referred to as “grandma’s law,” basically, “eat you broccoli first and then you can have apple pie”. From a dog’s perspective you are saying “sit first and then you can be petted”. These type of commands give your dog an established job.

Many dog owners extend this program to other aspects of their dog’s life, therefore, they ask for a sit before feeding a dog, before attaching a leash or before opening the door. These polite manners are easy to incorporate in everyday life and once dogs and owners get the hang of it, they will become second nature.

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