I just got back from meeting with a client. I had worked with Buster* and his people in the past, when he was a puppy, teaching him his basic manners. The training went well, but Buster's mom was hesitant to use treats from the very beginning, and couldn't wait to fade out their use. They recently called me because Buster is pulling on the leash, especially when he sees another dog.
We took Buster for a walk and sure enough, he pulled. I saw that Buster's mom held the leash very tightly and gave Buster only praise when he did offer polite behavior. It was apparent that Buster was very frustrated and overly stimulated by the environment and needed help to focus. I then took the leash and, with Buster next to me, immediately clicked and treated him with bits of turkey, and continued to do so with a high rate of reinforcement. What happened then was Buster began to happily trot next to me while giving me extended eye contact.
What happened? Did I say magic words? Sprinkle fairy dust? Nope. I just used science.
The science of behavior is very clear: Behavior that is reinforced strengthens. Behavior that is not reinforced weakens.(1)
Think of the things we ask our dogs to do - sit, down, stay, walk on a loose leash, not bark at the delivery man - as the dog's job, and they should be paid according to the difficulty of the job. For Buster, like many dogs, walking nicely in the big, distracting world is really hard. For him to do it well requires pay (reinforcement) that is valuable to him.
How would you feel if at the end of the work week you went to pick up your paycheck and all your boss did was pat you on the back and said "good job"? That's essentially what Buster's people were doing to him.
Don't be a cheap boss. Pay your dog well in order to strengthen behaviors.
It's not rocket science. But it is science, and it works.
* Name changed to protect the innocent.
Jeff Dentler, CPDT-KA, IAABC-ADT, FFCP, CTDI