The Value In A “Reward”
We often hear in dog training circles the expression "high value reward" as in find what your dog loves best, be it food, toy, type of praise, and then begin from there. But this immediately begs the question, how is the value of any given reward tabulated in a dogs' mind? and which we certainly would think would be the fundamental question for a system of learning that sees itself as being based on a reinforcement theory of behavior. And yet reinforcement theory doesn't seem to have anything to say on the matter. We observe that some dogs will kill for treats, some will run through flames for a toy, others seem to work for a belly rub above all else, whereas some dogs tune out all delectable goodies or fluffy bite objects the instant a squirrel's tail flickers in its peripheral vision. In the current models these range of responses are basically seen as a hodgepodge of value assignation arrived at through happenstance or by some mysterious random process, as in "every dog is different." But an energy interpretation of behavior and learning reveals an overarching template and a universal process by which such differentiation is arrived at. This is not a random process and the only reason every dog is unique is (paradoxically as it may first appear to be) by virtue of the universality of this process among dogs.
A reward attains its value to reinforce any given action by virtue of how much INTENSITY the dog is able to express and/or how much RESISTANCE the dog is able to overcome in the pursuit of said object. So a dog may love to chase a ball in one context because it is able to express a lot of intensity given the resistance inherent in that particular situation (for example when by itself with its owner in the backyard), but then in another context when the resistance is far higher (for example in a new place with a stranger) it doesn't even prick an ear when the ball is thrown. Therefore, if an owner increases the amount of intensity a dog can express in overcoming a high degree of resistance, the object of its pursuit will become the highest value reward for that dog no-matter-what. There's no need to have different rewards for different dogs once they attain "critical mass."
Let me add the following example from nature. Around the den, each wolf manifests a particular set of personality traits replete with a registry of likes and dislikes seemingly specific to its own unique "value system." So it would appear that each member of the pack values one item more or less than another, especially relative to other members in regards to these various objects or even places. And yet, when the hunt is on, each member of the group wants the moose with the same degree of intensity. Thus in the final analysis, they all have the same value system so that what we first might presume is a unique individuality given their respective registry of likes and dislikes, can more logically be interpreted to be but a symptom or derivative of a universal working dynamic.