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


Beef Jerky
Bread crust
Butchers bones
Canned cat food
Cat treats
Spray can spreadable cheese
Chicken wieners
Cooked pasta
Crumbled ground beef
Dog biscuits
Dried liver
Eating dinner
Freeze dried liver
French fries
Hard boiled eggs
Homemade treats
Hot dogs
Ice cream
Ice cubes
Kibble dog food
Lamb roll
Liver cookies
Peanut butter
Pizza crust
Pureed liver
String cheese
Water to drink


Ball on a rope
Boat bumpers
Braided tug
Burlap sacks
Bungee toys
Cow Milker Inflation
Fleece pieces
Furry Mouse
Hockey pucks
Jolly Ball
Palm fronds
Protective sleeves
Puppy tugs
Rope tugs
Sock with ball
Squeaky toys
Squishy ball
Squash ball
Street hockey balls
Water bottle
Wool toys


Dog Walk


Back scratch
Barking session
Belly rub
Car rides
Carpet rolls
Chasing things
Chase games
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
Hand Targeting
Herding: sheep, fish
Hose-chasing water
Hunting mice, rats
On the couch/bed
Park (gotothe)
Play with other dogs
Play with the cats
Play with kids
Pulling sleds
Running in sprinkler
Running off leash
Praise from me
Scratching back
Shredding paper
Snow shovelling
Soccer balls chasing
Splashing in kiddie pool
Trip to training class
Tuggin a toy
Tugging on you
Vacuum (chasing it)
Watching TV
Walk (gofora)
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.