Reinforcements in Dog Training


When training your dog, it is important for you to know and understand how to use food and other types of reinforcers correctly. Be aware that if you only use food for reinforcement, it will be difficult to have the dog work when you have no food available. Varying the reinforcers keeps the dog more attentive and it livens up the training session. If the dog doesn’t know what is coming next, he will learn to look forward to it, as it will be enticing to him. If it is the same treat day in and day out, the dog may become bored and lack enthusiasm or drive to work for you. His performance may become ho hum or he may lose any interest in working for you.

When training, keep the dog’s attention by being unpredictable and exciting when giving him his reinforcers. Instead of simply handing him treats or food, toss them out away from you or into the air. Do the same with any toys you use. Vary it so that sometimes you give him the food or toy and other times you throw them away from him. Do something silly like roll on the ground and encourage him to join you. If there is something that he enjoys doing, such as sniffing the ground instead of paying attention to you, let that be one of your reinforcers.


Vary the type of reinforcer you use, such as a treat, dog food, toys or play. Vary too how often you reward, every time the dog offers the correct action, every second, fifth, etc.  This will keep the dog’s attention on you and make the training session more interesting. Do not become a vending machine where the dog puts in the same amount of try and is rewarded with the same exact thing every time. While this is okay, it is not really rewarding to the dog, (think booooring!), and you will run into trouble if you don’t have whatever reinforcer he is accustomed to receiving available. If that happens, the dog will very likely lose interest and walk away. Instead, become more like a slot machine. The dog will never know what is coming next, and just like people who continue to feed the slot machine to see what they might win the next time, so will the dog.

Keeping this in mind, when you are training your dog, have several different reinforcers in your arsenal. Have tasty treats, some of his dinner, his favorite ball or tug toy or any number of things. Instead of rewarding him every time he offers the behavior, once he knows it vary how often you reward. Sometimes offer a reinforcer the first time, next time the fifth, then the third, etc. Also, if you are feeding treats or dog food, vary the number of treats you give him. Sometimes give him only one, other times give him a handful. Remember that to a dog, if you give him a handful all at once, it equals only one treat, whereas if you feed him a number of treats individually, it will be like an added bonus to the dog.


Instead of using the “normal” reinforcers and rewards, add more to your arsenal and become much more entertaining and interesting to your dog. Use this list to help you find other things that may encourage your dog to give you his best work. Keep in mind how your dog’s temperament and personality are and what would work best for him when using these or any other reward.

  • Clapping and cheering
  • A gentle pet on the head or back
  • Roughhousing with him
  • Play tug of war
  • Release him and let him be a dog for a few minutes
  • Let him sniff the ground
  • Toss his toys or treats away from him
  • Run around and let him chase you
  • Fall down on the ground and act silly, encouraging him to join you
  • Get down with him and scratch his belly, his chin or wherever he really loves it
  • Lie down beside him and spend some quiet bonding time
  • Toss grass or snow up in the air and encourage him to chase it
  • Play an easy game of hide and seek
  • Let him play with his favorite pal
  • If he enjoys doing tricks, ask him to do a few of them for you

Remember to be inventive and impulsive when interacting with your dog. Offer a huge “jackpot” when he gets something perfect, such as a straight sit, an excellent recall or when he ignores the cat walking by. Also offer an exceptional reward when he finally “gets” something that he has been struggling with. If you do this, he will remember it and the positive feelings that are then attached to it and will more willingly offer you the correct behavior.  Avoid rewarding the same for a lackluster performance as you do for an exceptional performance. Let him know how pleased you are with him!  The dog is doing this to please you and spend time with you. Make it worth his while and you will have a much more willing companion!

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