Dog’s Eye View: Ding, dong — trick-or-treat!
Trick-or-treat on Halloween, that very special night full of ghouls and goodies, follows the behavioral principles of the science of consequences. What does this have to do with dogs? Everything.
From inside the house, you are prepared to meet the tricksters. You have a huge bowl of a variety of candies. You may be dressed in costume yourself. You’re visiting with friends or maybe watching TV when the doorbell rings. You jump up and open the door. You are met with adorable and scary creatures who announce the obligatory, “trick or treat!” You grab the candy bowl and start rewarding these feisty fellows. They may have to tell you before the treat what their disguise is, but that’s half the fun.
Why do little goblins come to your door? Do you suppose they would come and knock on your door just to say hello? No. They come to the door because it pays in candy.
The behaviors that produce the strongest reinforcers (bonus paycheck, cake, treats for your dog, a special dinner, candy) are the behaviors we and our dogs will repeat. Consequences drive behavior. The payoff is the motivation for the behavior.
So from inside your house on Halloween, the doorbell ring is your cue to answer the door. You get up and walk to the door. Because your reinforcing consequence might be getting to see the children in costume and share their delight when you give them candy, you’ll probably continue to answer the door.
From outside of the house, the children ring your doorbell and expect the door to open, but, at least at our house, they have to say “trick or treat” or no treats will be forthcoming. So those words are their cue to you, and because you immediately fill their little hands and containers with sweet delights, the children will continue to go from door to door.
Can you imagine if the children approached a house and rang the doorbell, but no one answered? There’d be no reason to say “trick or treat.” They’d walk away empty-handed with no payoff. Do you think they would continue to run up to that same house? No, because consequences drive behavior.
In my article, “I can hear you,” published in July, I mentioned that, long ago, I learned from a professional animal trainer that it wasn’t necessary to yell at my dog to get him to do something. This man used sumptuous treats that were immediately given to reinforce the behavior he wanted. His soft words were the cue to his dog to “do this behavior now.” His dog stayed right in front of him, eagerly anticipating another cue that signaled a behavior he could perform that would produce more treats.
Consequences drive behavior.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC, with more than 30 years of experience.
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