This isn’t one of those picture arithmetic puzzles multiplying across our Facebook walls. Honestly, I agree that fifty dollars and two hundred quarters are mathematically equivalent. However, as a dog trainer, I deal with relationships—and I promise you that those two hundred “quarters” will give you more bang for your buck than any “fifty dollar” jackpot.

Consider: Your boss dangles a $50 bill in front of you as he hands you a broom. He asks you to follow him. You arrive at a large room where he tells you to sweep. After you complete the task, instead of handling you the cash, he asks you to follow him to another larger room that needs sweeping. Are you still willing to work for him?

Imagine another scenario: your boss hands you a broom and asks you to follow him. As you take a step, he drops a quarter into your pocket. As you walk along, every couple of steps, he gives you another quarter. You arrive at a large room. He asks you to sweep; every couple of sweeps, ka-Ching, he gives you another quarter. It goes this way until you’ve swept the entire floor. You and he walk to another larger room that needs sweeping. Are you still willing to work for him?

Knowing How to Win

Chasing after a big payoff that never comes turns people off. Chasing after a big payoff that isn’t delivered —or that comes so long after (or so far from) the behavior that earned it—turns dogs off, too.

The boss in Scenario Two made it easy for you to win. You didn’t need to win big, because you won often. The frequency with which you received reward kept you interested and willing to keep working. Admittedly, this analogy isn’t perfect, but you probably see what I mean. Receiving little bits of value frequently does two things: shows you how to earn more bits of value, and keeps you motivated to keep earning.

Image of Quarters to help remind readers to reward frequently

It’s exciting to receive payoffs frequently. They build your confidence that you’re doing the right thing. They create motivation to keep trying—even in the face of increasing difficulty.

Figuring out how to win is super-motivating for any learner (human, dog, whatever.) When we make it simple for our dog to win by asking for small slices of behavior and offering frequent payoffs, we keep them “in the game.” We keep them thinking. We keep them motivated. Gentle increases in difficulty or duration become fun because my learner is confident they can earn the reward. Best of all, behavior built this way is robust. It withstands outside pressures.

Sure, two hundred quarters may be the mathematical equivalent of $50 dollars. However, two hundred tiny but well-placed rewards will create enthusiasm and confidence in your learner that far exceeds what you’ll get from bribing your dog with a “$50 dollar” treat you’re slow to deliver. Try it yourself, and let me know how it goes.

Amee Abel, CPDT-KA, offers dog training to pet owners and performance sport competitors through Abel Dog Training, LLC, and through on-line private and group programs. During the COVID-19 Emergency, she is hosting free lessons in the sport of Rally Obedience. The group’s called Rally-On!-Line, and you can sign up for it using the form on this website (www.abel2train.com) New lessons are posted every Saturday. Join a group of like-minded dog-lovers to work on the tricks and skills that make dogs fun to live with.

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