Rewards Part 1

How to reward your dog correctly is THE most important part of dog training and it is one of the first things I mention on my FUNdamental Foundations Courses.

In my two part blog I will be going through a few important things to remember when rewarding your dog.

Just imagine this… Its a blistering hot Bank Holiday and your boss has said that you have to go into work for the same money that you get on a normal day 🤯 – would you do it if you had a choice?! I’m guessing probably not! So why should things be any different for your dog?!

Dogs make choices every second that they are awake, some good and some that we may not class as being so good!! Our job as good owners is to reward our dogs for making the right choices.

Dogs will repeat what they get reinforced, it may be us reinforcing the behaviour with food, praise or play or it may be the dog rewarding itself.

So with that in mind make a note of everything that your dog finds rewarding.

A reward doesn’t have to come from us for the dog to find it rewarding. Sniffing, barking, rolling in poo, marking, amongst other things are all examples of behaviours that dogs can sometimes find rewarding.

Milo and one of his favourite rewards.

In the fast paced world that we live in, it is very common for us to focus on all the bad things that our dog does. By focusing on this we are missing all the good choices that our dog is making! If we reward the dogs good choices then they will get that behavior reinforced and therefore be more likely to repeat it.

One of the most common things I come across as a trainer in class is handlers who either are not wanting to use treats or worrying that their dogs will get fat if they do, so in class what they do is they either don’t reward the desired behaviour or they don’t reward it enough or they don’t use a high value food and the dog quickly disingages leaving the handler frustrated which in turn creates a negative emotion which then transfers over to the dog.

A simple way to combat this is to either use some of your dog’s normal food (that they are going to get anyway) for training or to simply reduce the amount of food you give them in their meals that day to make way for the treats you use in training.

There was a study conducted that proves that dogs, amongst other animals actually prefer to work for their food (contrafreeloading). Why not tap into this and use it to your advantage to train your dog the behaviour you desire?!

By using some of your dogs daily food allowance to train you benifit in a number of ways:

  • It a creates a stronger bond between you and your dog.
  • It makes you the centre of your dogs world which makes things like recall and loose lead walking a lot easier.
  • It utilises your dogs daily food in a positive way.
  • It limits the need to give them lots of treats in certain environments if they are happy to work for their normal daily food.

You do still need a high value reward to teach a new skill, but this is something I will talk more about further down the blog.

I also use some of my dogs food in a range of canine enrichment activities such as snuffle mats, kongs and interactive games.

So……. Imagine the scene, you turn up to class with several new distractions for your dog :

  • Other dogs
  • New venue
  • New people
  • New sights
  • New smells

Amongst all this your asking your dog to perform a new skill that they have never done before.

This is HARD for them.

So what do you get out your pocket to reward them with when they achieve the behaviour… … A dry, small biscuit that they usually get anyway at home – not exactly rewarding is it?!

The reward needs to be so exciting for them, something that they absolutely love! If it isn’t the chances are they won’t repeat that behaviour. They only need to be pea sized so not huge and something they can eat easily.

Picture the scenario yourself… You have taken a new high powered job, lots of extra duties are expected from you, its a new place with people that you’ve never met before and your payment.. Minimum wage – which is far less than your previous job! 😣😭

The point I’m trying to get across is that you need to REWARD the good /new behaviour massively – think of it like the dog hitting the jackpot!

Dogs are similar to small children in the respect that they are learning! You wouldn’t raise kids without teaching them basic skills and rewarding the good choices they make, dogs are exactly the same.

When in a class or if I’m out in a exciting or new environment I always take a food reward that my dog sees as being high value; ham, beef, sausage, sprats, cheese etc – a real treat that my dog doesn’t get at home. Your dog needs paying big time for their good behaviour!!

Sprats are a fantastic natural food reward.

I also use praise, affection, play with a toy and play (game based) as other types of reward for my dogs, so it isn’t always just about food rewards.

A few of my dogs favourite toys.

If your worried about your dog putting on weight with the extra intake of high value food then simpy cut down their normal daily allowance to allow for the extra calories.

I also use dog safe fruit and vegetables in my training and my dogs love it! Carrot 🥕, broccoli 🥦, apple🍏 are a few of their favourites.

We wouldn’t go to work for no pay and I really don’t expect the dogs to either!

You also have to consider that what your asking your dog to do might not be something that your dog would ordinarily choose to do instead!.. Recalling from a squirrel, rolling in fox poo, counter surfing – these are just 3 examples of things that your dog may enjoy doing more than your desired behaviour (much to your dispair).

It is important to make the reward you are offering them far outway the behavior your trying to stop! Why else would they do it?!

The reward also needs to match up on a energy level too. For example if your dog likes to chase, you need to match that energy with the reward of a game of chase with you instead by using their favourite fluffy toy or a food toy such as a bungee lotus ball. Chase is a natural behaviour for dogs and it is important you recognise if this is a area your dogs need to work on and never have your dog off lead around livestock.

In part two I will talk about reward ratio and reward placement which are so important when it comes to training your dog. Hit subscribe so you don’t miss it!

Flash and his favourite tuggy toy.

Play… Train… Enjoy… Succeed!

Happy Training

Katrina 🐾

Published by KB Agility

Games Based Agility Coach. One to One Agility Training. Small Group Workshops and Seminars. Based in Derbyshire.

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