Never Go Out Without Treats (Issue 1006)

In which we are reminded to notice, recognize, and reward or compliment our colleagues’ (or children’s) productive performance even when they perform well, routinely.

One of my friends acquired a dog in February. She had wanted a dog for years and had never been in a position to house and care for one. In February, she took the big leap. Through a rescue organization, she acquired a mutt whose dominant strain appears to be Australian border collie. She called him “Max.” He’s intelligent, quick on his feet, and affectionate – he likes to snuggle.

When she got him, she learned quickly that he had been housebroken but not trained well. When they went out for walks, he pulled constantly. Going up steps, he ran so fast that she sometimes tripped and fell forward. If he spotted a rabbit or a squirrel, he lunged immediately. Early on, she was using a neck collar for him and he would pull so hard that he choked and gagged. At one point she said, “He views rabbits, squirrels, and small children as prey.” Although he is a medium- sized dog, his bark hints at a much larger presence. She reported times that much larger dogs submitted just based on Max’s bark. Yikes!

She has been working with him for five months. I visited with both of them last week and observed them in a small group training session with professional trainers. Long story short, the trainers’ method includes immediate food treats for desired responses to verbal and non-verbal commands accompanied by code words, for example, “Yes” and a treat for a successful response. Max has responded well to this. “He’s very food motivated”, my friend observed.

We took a long walk together. Before we left, my friend went to her kitchen to load several dozen small treats into a belt pouch. “Never go out without treats,” she replied.

She’s developing a dozen different behaviors, for example, sitting before crossing a street, sitting to wait while my friend opens a door, and walking up steps without pulling. Every time Max completes a desired behavior, she says an enthusiastic “YES!” and offers a treat. We must have crossed streets 30 times during the walk. She gave him a treat each time he sat to wait until she said, “Okay”.

I asked, ‘Will you always need to treat at each intersection and door?”

“I will for a while,” she replied, “and then I’ll say “yes” every time and treat intermittently.”

“Ah,” I replied. Variable-interval reinforcement. Extraordinarily powerful.

I remember hearing a story about National Football League quarterback Fran Tarkenton; he played 18 seasons professionally from 1961 to 1978. When he retired, Tarkenton held NFL career records in pass attempts, completions, yardage, touchdowns, rushing yards by a quarterback, and wins by a starting quarterback. After a team meeting led by head coach Bud Grant, Tarkenton asked Grant, “Why don’t you say anything nice about me in these meetings?” Grant’s reply – words to the effect of, “You’re one of the best that’s ever played. I didn’t think you needed it.”

Nick Miller and Clarity train banks and bankers to attract and develop deeper relationships with small businesses. Many more Sales Thoughts like this and a host of other articles and resources at .

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