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
Canned cat food
Spray can spreadable cheese
Crumbled ground beef
Freeze dried liver
Hard boiled eggs
Kibble dog food
Water to drink
Ball on a rope
Cow Milker Inflation
Sock with ball
Street hockey balls
Clapping & cheering
Jumping on things
Get in the kennel
Get out of the kennel
Go into the house
Get out of the car
Go out of the house
Herding: sheep, fish
Hunting mice, rats
On the couch/bed
Play with other dogs
Play with the cats
Play with kids
Running in sprinkler
Running off leash
Praise from me
Soccer balls chasing
Splashing in kiddie pool
Trip to training class
Tuggin a toy
Tugging on you
Vacuum (chasing it)
Wrestle session with you
You running, whooping
When you know what your dog finds reinforcing, it will take a lot of the frustration out of your training and life with your dog (for both you AND your dog … after all, your dog is not purposefully frustrating you, he is just providing you with information). Rather than lamenting over and over about things your dog does, or does not do, and asking “why does my dog to that”, or “how can I stop him doing that”, you can ask yourself “where’s the value for my dog” and “how can I build value for what it is I want my dog TO DO”.
That one question “where’s the value?” is a powerful one that we all should ask ourselves in our dog training …. and as I’ve said before, if you live with a dog, you are a dog trainer.
Swimming is a highly valued reward for my dogs.
Today I am grateful for my past and present dogs and the reinforcers they showed me the value of … Shelby loved her rocks and DeCaff loved her fly swatters (you have to admire the creativity of a terrier) … and my young Border Collie, Momentum, has a great passion for the see-saw in agility.
Remember to let me know your dog’s top three food, toy and activity rewards in the comments below. We will include more on our list above to grow it as your reports come in.
Our 7 month old Aussiedoodle, Marley’s fav foods. is just about ANYTHING! I can’t even determine his fav treats for training, because he dives for them all, however through treat diving, I did find one that he didn’t care for and just spits it out…so that was actually very helpful. It does seem to be the smellier the better. For that reason, I might have to say smell is the dominant factor. And the smelliest treats I’ve tried are dehydrated salmon, dehydrated duck nibs, and cheese. He also loves peanut butter Kongs and whatever meat we’re eating for dinner
Fav toys: Squeaky toys, tugging, smaller balls but not big balls
Fav activities; snowshoeing off leash, belly rubs, walks with me, but not on roads without sidewalks (cars on roads with just a shoulder.
willow loves any kind of cooked meet, especially beef. loves celery and fish skin.
loves her tug toy, throwing the ball and one special chew toy.
loves to chase things, run with dog friends and visit my son’s family with all the excitement it bringings
I share this with my dog training clients all the time. Thank you!
My list can go on we have been writing it up for a year for our girl BUT I would say the most unique one is access to the “stress” scent of grasshoppers. Apparently when a grasshopper is stressed, they have a scent she LOVES to roll in. When they are on concrete I usually redirect her as they get her if we use them as a reward there, BUT if they are on grass they don’t get hurt. I spent a whole season training with grasshoppers scent as the reward.
Arlo’s top 3 rewards:
Food: Chicken sprinkled with dehydrated beef, Dehydrated beef , Bacon treat
Toys: Tug toy, chasing a ball (but not returning it), Don’t have a third. I realize that I have not used enough toys. They are low value to him. I want to change that and hope I can get great enthusiasm for tug.
Activity: Stalking dogs, Chasing dogs, Wrestling with family (but then he uses his teeth so it is not always fun)
My almost 2 yr old Leonberger loves:
Food: Cheese, hotdog slices, apple, kale stems, carrots, really almost all foods
Toys: Flirt Pole!!! Tug toys-ball on rope, west paw toys for tug
Activities: anything to balance on; wobble board, fit paws peanut, tricks- roll over, sit pretty, standing on hind legs, spins
Rat Terrier siblings!
Buddy: Apples, Popcorn, Chicken / Abalone Shells, Balls, Socks / Digging, Digging, Hunting
Poppy: Bananas, apples, freeze-dried liver / Fleece braided tug, Sticks, stuffed animals / Jumping on my back–or on our sheep, hunting, digging
Real fur toys, squeaky large tennis ball, rubber stick, my undies, socks and pj’s
Chase, dog play, fitness equipment training, me, stuffed food toys, swimming in dirty water
Grooming which I have to do regularly
Food: chicken, hot dogs, cheese sticks
Toys: dead palm fronds
Activity: playing with other dogs
Food – sausage
Toy- remote control car to chase
Activities – being sprayed with a hose (water) – cooling as well as fun
Food– stealing any kind, loves carrot pulled up out of the veg plot, freeze dried meat, cooked meat, bone chewing, rabbit poo, horse poop, hoovering the kitchen floor for crumbs, the results of being on the streets from a baby and in shelters!
Toys–any balls, old rope tugs,running and chase, squeaky balls, wood, water plastic bottles,
Activities—tissues and like the andrex add tiolet rolls, anything out of bins, stealing and running away with, gardening gloves, pots with plants in, soil, campervan rides, digging sand, playing with other dog’s, sleeping on cool floors, following me 24/7, shepherd guarding, watching, eating, tea from a cup, being brushed, belly rubs on the sofa, her crate, barking at me for attention, training classes, anything that moves, pawing for food and high fives, cup tricks,sniffing grass, finally making out she’s deaf and giving me the run around but she is only 8 mths
Food: Pretty much anything.
Toys: tugs, BALLS! but even above balls is STICKS! I spend a lot of time on walks filling the back pouch pocket of my training gilet with nice, short, fat, safe sticks to produce “out of nowhere” for recalls 😁
Food: Poached chicken, dried lamb or lamb jerry, cheese
Toys: Squeaky toys, empty plastic drink bottles, tug toys
Activities: chasing after a thrown toy, wading in the lake, shredding paper
Juno (border collie)
Food: sausages, cheese, bedtime biscuit
Toys: rope tugs, unicorns, dragons
Activities: stealing socks, finding used tissues in pockets, policing bicycles (on the sidewalk or going the wrong way down a one way street)
Food: Cheese, carrots, chicken.
Toys: Soccer ball, rope tug, tennis ball.
Activities: Digging, car rides, walks, soccer ball chasing.
Dottie – Border Collie 4months
Food – cheese, ham, chicken
Toys – squeakies, balls, tuggies
Activities – going for a walk, running, zoomies solo, zoomies with other dog, stealing socks, training obedience & dance moves.
Fizz – Border Collie 3 months
Food – cheese, sausage, ham, chicken
Toys – tuggies, balls
Activities- going for walk, running, zoomies with other dog, chewing furniture, chewing bones/chews/ears
Hard goats cheese his favourite so far. Tried him on some salami last night that got a lot of interest.
I think it’s a tug toy? Has a leash handle and like a microfibre shaggy cloth attached to it it also had a ball on the end but I cut it off because it had a strong plastic smell.
Loves talking to other dogs and people. Dragging his ‘calming’ bed around the house 🙄 (calming) chasing nerf ball
Jasper loves cat kibble, duck jerky, BBQ chicken; Squeaky toys, t-shirts that I’ve worn and donated to him, furry/feathery toys; playing with other dogs, running off leash, me and him runing and whooping
This is a really interesting question! I am currently raising a Leader Dog puppy who is not food motivated, and all of the toys listed (so most fun dog toys), most of the agility and activities listed, and many of the food rewards are off limits per the program protocol.
Helsie, Appenzell Mountain Dog loves:
Raw ground beef balls
Dock diving / loves to be in the water
Agility / jumps / everything
cheese, hot dogs, dried treats
Toys: Balls, anything that squeaks, tug toys
Activities: daily walks, running, chasing squirrels/chipmunks/rabbits, morning scratches, belly rubs, playing with other dogs
Loves all food cheese, liver and dried beef are his favourites
He loves playing tug with rubber pig and fetch with a ball
My Mini Aussie Noel Loves Carrots, Sweet Potatoes dehydrated, chicken,Lamb treats etc. She loves her herding ball. After Agility training her Reward is herding.
toys koala bear stuffed toy plastic sausages soccer ball tennis ball stuffed toy s
food all meats chicken dog biscuits cheese any cake or bread liver treats anything I’m eating
activities walks in dog park meeting other dogs playing fetch cuddling up with me going in the car with me going for bush walks off lead
Food: chicken, turkey, liver treats
Toys: Frisbee, squeaky tennis ball inside sock, squeaky tennis ball inside soft tug
Activities: agility jumps and weaves, barking to alert us of someone in the driveway, nose work, daily walks
– broccoli, cooked any which way
– beets cooked, small bite size pieces
Atypical proteins to avoid intestinal distress
– Bison, raw and cooked
– sardines, canned, no salt added
– sardines raw, frozen
– smelt raw, frozen
– goat milk kefir, plain
– salmon patties from New Seasons grocery deli
And a plethora of things that do not sit well with his digestive system 😜
Currently in the process of building value for toys. It’s like he never had the opportunity to play with any.
However if you will throw a snowball for him he will do everything in his power to catch it so he can eat it 🤣
Real world, keeping up with his former handler through the most astonishing terrain. I would really like to get him back to the physical capabilities he possessed when I adopted him three and a half years ago. I swear he could have done Justice to a police dog training course.
He had to slow down to deal with the fact that I was in a wheelchair when I adopted him.
Body scratching with a human shower brush is absolute favorite. Quite the transformation, he hated any and all grooming when I first attempted to offer some.
Jumping on walls and boulders that I point out to him.
Since finding Susan Garrett:
All kinds of training sessions, hooray ❣️
Diamond Dancer 15 year old Australian Cattle Dog: almost any food; she is a little squeamish about some raw chicken, especially gizzards. Loves carrots and other veggies. She has recently gone blind, so we are looking for other things she enjoys. She loves to do agility weaves when I set her in position and walks on leash. Hasn’t been into toys or tugging for the last year.
Lady Luck 11 year old Borgi (Border Collie/Corgi) is tennis ball crazy, likes frisbees. Likes most food and dog treats, will eat lots of veggies (not her favorite)–but NOT away from home! For agility training, I used a Holey Roller with a long rope tied in a loop through it.
Peanut’s favourite Activities: Sniffing, Barking (oh please mom…I just wanna Bark at it), Retrieving things I have dropped (A trained game)
His favourite Food: Cheese, chicken, Tuna, salmon
His favourite toy: A ball, if I am playing with him. Me. Slowly getting a tug from him. He does not really appreciate toys.
Favorite three activities: Levee Walk, Mowing the Lawn, Swimming!
Favorite Toys: Frisbee, balls, rubber chicken
Favorite Food: Beef, Chicken, Liver
My black Labrador, Matisse loves food being a Labrador..
She loves her soft plaited tug toy, squeaky toys and chasing a ball.
Greeting people and dogs excitedly is a huge reward, cuddling on the couch at night when invited and coming to school with me to meet the kids and other people.
Food: catfood mixed with sardines, cheese, coldvmeat
Toys: ball on a rope, frisbee, pullytug
Activity: jumping to catch a dandelion flower( or dead leaf or anything I find on thevground), playing chase, chasing the cat.
Food: meat, dog biscuits, cream
Toy: ball, water from hose pipe, 5l water bottle
Activity: running, fetching, hunting for toy/person/animal
Food: Raw meat, Bones and liver
Toys: Getting wet with the garden hose, flirt pole and football
Activities: Chasing squirells, deer anything that runs, Sniffing and leaving me in the dust
Food: roast chicken, cheese, dinner bowl
Toys: Lotus Ball, flirt pole, soft toys
Activities: getting in the car, barking, kids
Food: raw chicken
Food – Liver, cheese, sausages
Toys – tug, sock with a ball in, squeaky toy
Activity – walk, fly ball, hand touch.
Bailey- 3 year old Cattle Dog mix
All food- freeze dried liver, cheese, green beans, & bananas
Chase & Catch (frisbee or ball), Run and Sniff outdoors off leash, Search, Swim, Car Rides, Climbing on things ie rubble, hay bales, agility equipment etc
Frisbee, Ball on Rope, herding ball
Ollies top three:
Food- bacon, spray can cheese, peanut butter
Toys – cow milker, squeaky toys, ball on a rope
Activities – walks, sniffing!!, tugging on me.
Kazuki’s favourites would have to be:
Getting in the car. He will even sleep in it if I let him.
Stella, my 4-month old cattle dog: (1) Cooked chicken skin… (2) Tug toy that has a squeaker… (3) Wrestling with other dogs.
By far, wrestling with other dogs has the Supreme Value in all the universe. We have a small group of dog owners that meet at the neighborhood tennis courts in the early morning for DOGGIE WRESTLING.
Squirrels,rabbits,deer, otters and
Toys Sm squeeky ball for very short time
Getting to come with me anywhere
My daughter and granddaughter
My black lab Lupo (age 10) is very food motivated ESPECIALLY if it is leftovers sitting on the counter. He doesn’t try to steal it (85% of the time) but he will come and get me and show me that he really wants it and will do anything for it. It’s pretty funny.
My dogs are really weird I guess. They really like it when I sing them their song. I have made up a song actually changed up a children’s song about them and sing it LOUD AND PROUD in a KIDDIE VOICE and they get so excited!! If I lose their attention in the Agility ring or they get spooky in conformation or whatever the case may be. It seems to get their attention back on me and at the task at hand. Plus if the other dogs hear me singing the other dogs songs they get excited too.
Fiona my Chihuahua-Little Bunny FiFi – Little Bunny FuFu
Ivy my Boston/Frenchie/Chihuahua- Baby Shark
Finn my Chinese Crested- Michael Finnegan
I know it is weird and I sound crazy but it is absolutely unique!! I have an attention getter, praise and excitement all in one. I always have it with me!!
I found that my pooch loves stinky socks! If i’m wearing socks around the house he will go crazy until he pulls them off or I take them off. It has become one of his favorite games!!
Ella – GSD Dried chicken, smelly cheese, kibble
Ball, ball, and ball
Blue – GSD Liverwurst, Cheese, canned food
Ball, ball and ball
Some of these things I found that worked for clients:
1. A Dobie. The only thing that worked was for her ‘boy’ (Teenager) to run with her. I think the boy’s mother was pleased as the boy was Asperger’s and it was a good activity for him too.
2, A Pomeranian. Who only wanted to piddle on things. He was harder but we finally found that he LOVED to stand on a skate board — not ride it just stand on it. He never looked back after this and became a visitor and entertainer showing off his tricks at aged care facilities
Sallee (German Shepherd) is a timid dog and mostly prefer to be near me. She also loves ball retrieving, but NOT dumbbell retrieving 🙁
Mad Millie (Beagle/Cocker Spaniel) it is FOOD any food! Sniffing and eating from her favourite patch of grass. But even more than either of these it is running away into the Wild Blue Yonder! Which simply cannot be used as a training reward 🙁
Ironbark fell and hurt his back 🙁 So I have him now of Turmeric and Ginger (with a dash of fine black pepper), all mixed up in butter. He absolutely adores it, and the other dogs think I am mean for not giving them a spoonful too. 🙁 (Well he is bigger and skinnier than them as well as in pain and bothered by his back legs.) Other than that his most favourite activity is a big smooch — and before he hurt his back he used to like me playing the African Drums on his rib cage 🙂
String Cheese, cooked chicken, dried liver
Ball, nylon rope tug, felt tug
Chasing ball, returning for tug, a walk with me…only me
Cooked thin pork chop bits, sausage, pork jerky
Buffalo Tug, felt tug, nylon bungee tug
Chasing ball, returning for tug, tugging, tug of war
Deacon, our mini Aussie’s biggest distraction is our 7 year old Mini Aussie, Jackson. He absolutely loves him second, after me.
The only food he doesnt love is Lamb Liver.
Squirrel tug toy that squeaks
2 Special tug toys from 4 My Merle
Stringy tug toys and rubber chew toys
Any Susan Garret Game
Chasing after Murphy and Jackson who chase the balls or the frisbee
I have 3 standard poodles
Maggie:14.5 yr old… prey driven/lover..chase chipmuncks ( or anything catchable), play with kids, bread crust treat. Therapy dog
Maxy: 11.5 yr old timid/tough do anything to please..ok with any bit of food, loves to retrieve & do obedience with me without other dogs around ( dumbell favorite!)
Mimi: 4.5 yr old Happy, wild, reactionary, learns quickly, huggy. Food ok from a cheerio to super smelly yum but being set free to play or chase & retrieving especially a squeaky toy.
Food: dried lamb treats, dried mussels and his dinner
Toys: BALLS!! Any and all balls. Also tugging rope and anything that squeaks (including the baby toys)
Activities: barking at anything, running at the park, cuddles with Dad (or mum if dad’s not home)
My 1 yo border:
Food – any
Toys – frisbee or stick
Activities – agility, herding, hikes, skiing, snuggles, rough housing
My 10 yo mutt:
Food – any
Toys – none
Activities – ski, agility, hiking, quality time, car rides, going to work with me, paddle boarding, getting to chase that squirrel
My 6 yo Shepard:
Food – fresh pet chicken tenders, but ball trumps food
Toys – ball (any form)
Activities – tracking, detection, protection sports, adventures, car rides, snuggle fighting