Positive reinforcement is when we deliver something pleasant to a dog, so that we can teach the dog to do the behaviour more often. Our go to reward, is usually food because most dogs love to eat and most dogs love treats. We do get some odd balls who can not be phased with food, and enjoys games, praise or touch much more.
It’s really important to know about all the stuff our dogs find rewarding, because we do not always have a treat on hand to give. It’s also important to know just how rewarding these things are to him. The easiest way to figure this out is to make a list of all your dog’s favourite things and to figure out what value these things hold, present two at the same time, and see what he chooses.
If he chooses a treat over a ball, the treat has a higher value than the ball. If you have two different treats, and he chooses chicken over cheese, then chicken is a higher value reward.
If you know you are taking your dog into a bit of a stressful situation, make sure you have your high value treats with you. When we know our dog struggles in this situation, planning ahead makes a lot of difference, not all dogs will find a ‘that a boy’ rewarding whilst waiting in the vet’s waiting room, some dogs will need the chicken.
When out and about, some dogs might just be so excited or overwhelmed, that they can’t take treats, not even their usual high value treats. A calm praise and gentle touch will do in this situation. Making contact with them in this way could help to ground them again, and therefor help them to calm down a tad.
Rewards are not always delivered by us, the dogs’ guardians. The environment is filled with rewards, and many innate behaviours are rewarding. Terriers will always enjoy digging and barking. Retrievers will enjoy carrying stuff in their mouths. Hunting dogs tend to have a very high prey drive, and chasing stuff will be a massive reward for them. Herding dogs will herd things that move, and even nip at it. These very normal behaviours, might cause some behavioural problems if they do not have a proper outlet. It’s important to help these dogs to channel these activities they crave so that they do not end up in trouble or worse, homeless.
What type of things does your dog value? What does he find rewarding? How can you use those things to reward your dog in every day life?
See other ways that rewards are important: