Shelby with a beloved reward, a rock, at the 1998 USDAA GP Nationals.
I’ve been blogging about dog training, dog behaviour, dog agility and dogs in general, with a few diversions, for many years now …. far more years than I probably thought when I wrote my first ever blog post. Over the years the topic of reinforcement has featured in many of my posts. In 2009 I addressed some of the concerns we as positive dog trainers hear about the use of rewards when I talked about being loved by a wiener. Nearly a decade later, we do not hear this as much as dog owners are now far more aware of what positive dog training is. I’ve also shared my lightbulb moment as a child when I discovered that with the use of cheese I could see dogs do amazing things.
We have looked at the transfer of value and also how to grow the value when using rewards for your dog. In fact, a search of my blog for the word reinforcement will likely find hundreds of posts with a lot of information on the strategic use of rewards in dog training. The thing is, you will be stuck in the application of the science of reinforcement based training if you do not know what is actually rewarding for your dog.
Reinforcement goes beyond the use of treats or toys, it encompasses everything in your dog’s life. Knowing what is rewarding will help you when your dog takes over the wheel of the bus, and it will help you when you want to build value for a behaviour. It will help you in your day to day life and in all sports and activities you do with your dog. Rewards are things that your dog likes that reinforce behaviours, making those behaviours more likely to be repeated. A reward is anything that your dog receives reinforcement from.
Reinforcement Builds Behaviour
Reinforcement builds behaviour, even if that behaviour is not necessarily one we want. For example, a dog who breaks a start line in agility is reinforced by taking the first obstacle and running the course, a dog who chases squirrels is reinforced by the chase, a dog who tugs on your pants leg is reinforced by your attention and the game. We can turn these things around by using rewards strategically and mindfully and including ourselves in that reinforcement. But first, we need to be aware of what the reinforcement is.
Today I have an easy exercise for you. All you need to to do is write down anything that is rewarding for your dog. To help you, below is a list of things that are rewards for dogs. It’s a list to start you off, there are many more! Let me know in the comments what the top three food, toy and activity rewards are for your dog. Keep your list close, add to it and modify it as things change. Only note the things that your dog may view as a “true” reward. You may like to believe affection from you is a real turn on but that doesn’t necessarily mean your dog agrees.
List of Reinforcers