A World Of Rewards1

A World Of Dog Rewards

Bob Bailey said “Training is simple, but it isn’t easy.”
The approach indeed is very similar and methodical no matter which behavior we are training: Set up the environment in a way that makes the dog likely to succeed, and reward for successful approximations of the goal behavior. This works whether we are teaching our new puppy to sit, or training a competition obedience routine.
When new dog owners hear the “reward” part of above description, they immediately think of the classical dog treats one might buy at the pet store. However, there are hundreds of different reward options out there – the following will explore some of the well-known, and less obvious reward ideas.

A World Of Rewards

Food Rewards

The options for food rewards are endless. Instead of simply choosing generic treats as your type of reward, take a deeper look at the types of food and their ideal application.
For highly excited dogs, we might want to use a low value food – such a kibble, or even pieces of fruit or vegetables for over-aroused dogs – to keep their excitement at a level at which they can learn well. On the other hand, less motivated and low-drive dogs may need very high value foods such as freeze-dried liver, tripe or hotdogs to be motivated enough to work with us.
Small pieces of food that are swallowed instantly work best for keeping a high rate of reinforcement, in speedy and short clicker sessions, and when learning a completely new behavior that requires frequent rewards to keep the dog on the right track, such as loose leash walking.
Peanut butter on a spoon – a food that provides a steady and constant reward opportunity – is good for training duration behaviors in which the dog can eat in position, such as training a sit pretty, or teaching your dog to heel via luring.
A frozen Kong or a bone will give you the opportunity to engage your dog for a long time with his reward in a very calm manner, this can for example be used during brushing sessions, or when visitors come over.

Want to get baking and make your own treats? Check out Treat Recipes!

Toy Rewards

Dogs are one of the few species that play throughout their whole life. Humans are one of those species as well 😉 So what could be more fun than to play together with your dog.
I discourage most clients from using the traditional rope toys, or home-made fleece tug toys for their dogs – for the majority of dogs they are too solid and they will not bite as hard as they would a softer toy. Toys should be large, soft and fluffy – my favorite toys are strings of stretchy, fluffy fabric from the costume section of the local fabric store. Cut a string 2-8 inches wide and up to 4 feet long and tie it to a circle. The resulting toy will awaken the hunter in your dog – it looks a lot more like actual prey than a short knotted rope! Making the toy circular will help your dog distribute the pressure of the toy evenly in his mouth, another important factor that can turn many less driven dogs off of tugging if ignored.
Start out by dragging your toy on the ground as you run away. You can also tie the end of it to a leash. Then, have a fun chase game with your dog! When your dog catches his “rabbit”, let him shake it and celebrate his victory with him.
The more hunt-like you can make the reward, the better your dog will like it!

Environmental Rewards

“Do I always have to carry treats so my dog will not pull on leash/sit politely/comeback when I call him?” No worries, you don’t.
The environment is full of rewards. Find out what your dog likes best, and use it to your advantage! Every dog loves going for a walk. Ask your dog to perform a few easy behaviors that you have been working on right before heading out the door, and let the start of the walk be the reward for performing those behaviors!
Does your dog enjoy sniffing bushes and trees intensely? Put it on a cue (by saying “sniff” every time your dog does it), and use this cue to reward him when he for example is walking well on leash without pulling.
Does your dog enjoy swimming/running like crazy/carrying sticks/playing with leaves/biting grass (a favorite of my dog Kix)? Name this reward and use the cue whenever you need to reward your dog for something done well.
If you can find environmental rewards, the whole world becomes your reward toolbox.

Environmental Rewards

Happy Tricks Rewards

Some tricks are so easy and so fun to perform for your dog that this behavior itself (if reinforced generously in the past) can become a reward. The classic examples for those are barking on cue, spinning left and right and jumping up. Train them to perfection, then ask your dog to perform them as a reinforcer for a different behavior. It is important that he knows them really well, and that he has fun doing them – we want to see dynamic, joyful, and in the case of many dogs even loud performance!

The Weirdo Rewards

Every dog has his very own specific ideas of unique rewards that are so strange, and yet so fun and useful, that it would be a loss to not discover and utilize them. Watch your dog in daily life to see what makes him go crazy – is it a piece of watermelon? Catching grass that’s thrown in the air? Tugging on your sleeve?
I once had a little, very unmotivated dog in a beginner agility class. This little dog would not take treats, or play, or otherwise seem to be tempted the slightest to participate. The owners and I brainstormed – what is it that brings out the wild and crazy in her? Eventually they told me that she steals socks. Perfect – they brought a sock on a string to class, and rewarded her by letting her chase it. She never skipped a beat again and advanced very quickly – she now had something that it was worth working for!

Don’t stop looking for the perfect reward just because you have found an ok one – and the perfect reward for one behavior and situation may be totally different from the perfect one for another behavior and situation!
Be creative, be inquisitive, build a reward toolbox that will leave your dog always wanting to work more.

Happy training!

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