By Veronica Rigatti, VSA-CDT, Canine Behavior Specialist
When using positive reinforcement training, you reward your dog for doing a behavior that you like or want. In turn, that good behavior will likely repeat itself. But you need to make sure you are using a reward that is motivating and reinforcing to your dog! You can use food, toys, play, petting or even your attention to reinforce a behavior. Each dog is an individual so what motivates them is going to be individualized as well. For most dogs, their number one motivator is food. However, some dogs value toys or petting more. Within each general motivator category, the rewards can be broken down further. For instance, with toys, a ball may be better than a stuffed toy for one dog, but another prefers the stuffed toy. Also, the type of play or game that goes with the toy, like a game of fetch or tug, could be the part that is motivating. There are so many kinds of food and treats that can be motivating to dogs. Just as people have their own preference for foods and their favorite treats, so do dogs!
It can be helpful to think of these motivators on a pay scale. Something that your dog gets often, such as their kibble, may not be very valuable to them. However, something that is human-grade food, like cheese, may be worth much more. It is important to pay attention to your dog’s response to the reward. Is it motivating enough for them to do what you are asking? If the behavior is new, difficult or they are in a very distracting environment, you will most likely have to use a higher value reward. Essentially, the harder the job is the better the pay should be. Once your dog has learned a behavior and can do it consistently, they shouldn’t need to be paid as often because it will be easy and less valuable rewards and motivators can be used.
Training can be a lot of work, but it should also be fun and rewarding for your dog. Figuring out your dog’s motivators can help advance their good behavior. For more behavior help, visit our website at ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org/Behavior.