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Rewards

Find out what motivates your dog. There are many types of rewards that you can use to reward your dog for behaving nicely.

Food: Let your dog tell you what types of treats they like best. A quick gulp followed by an intense look and rapid response to your next request is a good indication that the treat was a winner. Remember that what works to motivate your dog in the kitchen may not motivate them at the park, in the backyard, or in class. Your dog is constantly making choices based on what he/she finds most motivating at the moment-Milkbones may be exciting compared to your living room furniture, but probably not compared to a room full of other dogs, people, and smells.

Any treats you use should be cut into very tiny pieces so that you can reward often, for every small success. For most dogs, pea-sized morsels are appropriate. For tiny dogs, even smaller pieces may be necessary. Be creative with your food rewards. The difference between a very successful training session and a very frustrating one can quickly come down to the value of your treats. Here are some suggestions for high value treats that work with many dogs:

-string cheese, American cheese, squeeze cheese
-cubes of cheese (cheddar, Swiss, Colby, jack, provolone, Gouda, etc.)
-ricotta, cottage or cream cheese in a travel shampoo dispenser
-hot dogs, with or without garlic powder (microwave them to reduce the grease factor)
-salami, polska kielbasa, summer sausage or beef jerky
-ham, turkey, chicken, or liver
-leftover steak, roast or pork chops
-liverwurst in a squeeze tube or from a baggie on a plastic spoon
-imitation crab cut into small pieces
-Kong Stuffin' paste (comes in a squeeze cheese-like can)
-small pieces of cooked pasta, especially tortellini
-cut up peanut butter sandwiches
-peanut butter from a squeeze tube (a Ziploc bag with the corner cut off also works well)
-Pupperoni dog treats
-Gnawsomes
-Red Barn/Oinkeroll/Natural Balance dog food (comes in tubes like salami)
-Gooberlicious by Bil Jac
-Bil Jac fresh frozen food
-Cool Jacs by Bil Jac

Games: The advantage to using games as a reward is that the reward builds the behavior you asked for and also builds relationship with you. Games of fetch are great for rewarding sits and comes in the backyard. Games of tug are an excellent reward for a behavior in motion (come, walking on a loose leash). Games of find are lots of fun for rewarding your dog after a stay-reward your dog for staying while you hide the treat/toy, and then release them to find their second reward. Using games as a reward is how many competition obedience, agility, flyball, search and rescue, and police K9 unit dogs are trained.

Life rewards: Access to the outdoors, access to the indoors, access to other dogs, car rides, the opportunity to jump on you, the opportunity to lick your face, a chance to get up on the bed, watch squirrels or bark at birds are all rewarding activities for your dog that you can use to reinforce desired behaviors. Asking your dog to sit before opening a door, to give you eye contact before being released to play with other dogs, and to lie down before you open the curtains in front of the bird feeder are all excellent exercises that use life rewards to reinforce desired behaviors. The great thing about using life rewards in training is that the dog learns that the best way to do what he/she wants is to do what you want. This is called the "Premack Principle."

Factors that affect the potency of your reward:

Please note that the rate at which you deliver reinforcers can also affect your ability to compete for your dog's attention in any environment. A Charlie Bear treat given every second or a piece of hot dog given every 3 seconds can both help me to keep my dog's attention in the presence of a cat. Because the hot dog is more exciting to the dog, the rate of reward does not have to be quite as high as when the reward is a Charlie Bear treat.

The distance between your dog and a distraction will also affect their ability to work. If your dog's best buddy is jumping on their head, it will be a lot harder for them to concentrate than if their buddy is across the room.

In some instances, your dog may not be able to take treats because their stress level has risen very high. If your dog shows signs of stress, you may need to increase your distance from any potential stressor, or take a break from training, go for a short walk, offer them a drink, and wait for them to calm down. Signs of stress can include:

-ears laid back close to the head -lip licking (like a lizard)
-wide eyes, whites showing -scratching
-panting -sniffing the ground
-cowering -offering a paw (appeasement gesture)
-shivering -tail tucked
-pacing -drooling
-shaking off -hiding
-yawning -squinting at you/rapid blinking


If you are interested in learning more about signs of stress in dogs, please read On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, by Turid Rugaas.