Strategic Reward – Opportunities to reward your dog as an alternative to treats
By: Brittney Frazier
It is usually no question that a dog will work for food. Because not all dogs are food motivated and their humans are usually looking for alternatives to breaking out the treat jar every time they would like their dog to obey a command, I am frequently teaching Found Chicago clients that there are easy ways to motivate your dog during your daily routine that don’t include a “cookie.” Not only are these options readily available in your every day life, I always work to find ones that are integral to a person’s everyday life.
Keep in mind the rewards listed below when planning out a training strategy for your pup.
- Food – While food is usually one of the highest motivators for a dog, save high value food items for teaching a new or intricate behavior. For all other commands your dog is already familiar with, try not to reward with your best treats. In addition, asking your dog to work two or three times a day for set meal times, and pulling the meal up if the dog in uninterested in eating, helps to create a habit of an obedient dog and keeps them hungry for the next time you want to train.
- Toys – A simple game of “fetch” can turn into a learning experience for a hard-working canine. Don’t forget to add obedience and new behaviors to your dog’s play and exercise routine. Not only will it allow your dog to learn in a way that is overall positively reinforcing, but your dog will learn to value your direction as a way to earn more fun! As with food, keeping high value toys or bones available to your dog at all times will only make them less valuable, so use them sparingly and rotate the toys you use to generate more interest.
- Transitions of space – Dogs love to go new places. Whether it’s out of their crate, out the front door, into the backyard, or into the car, you hold the key to every new place your dog goes. Use it to your advantage by asking for a behavior before you reward your dog with their next experience. This teaches your dog to see you as a leader and as the “giver” of everything they enjoy.
- Daily routines – Leashing your dog or wiping their paws before entering your home may seem like basic behaviors easily accomplished without much thought. But asking for a behavior before doing so will allow for your dog to stay calm and attentive while you become the center of the routine. Remember that dogs see interaction with us as a positive, so even engaging with them for basic things like putting on their gear can become a reward.
- Affection – With all the bonding you’ve done with your dog thus far, YOU have become the best reward your dog could ask for. Don’t forget to use this power to your advantage. Giving affection away constantly or freely without being associated with any good behavior will render you invaluable when you really need to use this reward. Things like recall or eye contact can be very difficult to come by for a low to medium drive dog unless the reward of working with their owner is built over time.
The key in motivating a dog is the strategy by which you use your rewards. If a reward is readily available to a dog, the dog will never learn to work for it. This is also the case if the reward is not as valuable as the distraction or difficult of the task being asked. Try asking your dog to work for the suggested rewards and see how responsive to training they can become!