Tuesday, October 4, 2016


I previously touched briefly on the importance of communication as one of Sara Stremming's Pillars of Behavioral Wellness. As a way to increase communication between us and our canine partners, Sarah is a proponent of Kathy Sdao's SMART50 program, which stands for: See, Mark, and Reward Training x 50.  For me, this concept was so simple and - in hindsight - so obvious that it blew my mind.  And it's just this: throughout the day, reward the good choices that your dog makes - no matter how small - and aim to do it 50 times a day.

Rewarding the good is the first thing that any positive reinforcement-based trainer will tell you to do, and a lot of people that I know, myself included, don't regularly offer rewards for wanted behaviors outside of "formal" training sessions (i.e., they only use rewards when specifically training, or training something specific).  For me, it's a combination of I don't think about it, and also, once my dogs are at a certain level with a particular behavior I consider it "trained" (at least in the house) and stop working on it.

Even though it hasn't been entirely intentional, it is a trap that I am starting to regret falling into with our first dog, Snowball.  When we were working it every day, going to the off-leash park, his recall was excellent.  We have slacked off on taking him to the park since we got Ida, and his responsiveness to "Snowball Come!" really reflects that.  I need to get back to working on it regularly, especially since we have a yard in which to work on it (it's atrocious in the yard too), and are only a 5 minute walk from an off-leash area.

Snowball: "Lalala I can't hear you"
I can't help but think that if I had maintained some kind of SMART50-like program with Snowball that his recall would not have faded as much as it has.  Unfortunately for me, reinforcement has never been presented to me as a general life rule - to always have cookies available and to reward every good choice your dog makes in day-to-day life.  But to me, it makes sense to incorporate this kind of informal training into our lives.  It not only reinforces dozen of wanted behaviors over time, but it will be interesting to see if I end up rewarding behaviors that I would not have otherwise thought to specifically train.

Finally, us as humans tend to focus on the negative - we see all the bad things our dogs do, but SMART50 also trains us humans to look for the good in our dogs.  And I bet most of us have dogs that are better behaved than we think we do.