He works hard for the money. Mr. N will work without seeing the reward and for a sustained period of time depending on the work but in the end, he demands that he gets paid! We share some of our favorite dog rewards for the holidays and beyond. For rewards are a lifetime thing with positive reinforcement training.
For dogs, there’s generally three types of rewards: food, toys and life rewards.
Favorite Dog Rewards for the Holidays and Beyond
The most common reward and one that the vast majority of dogs will work for. Mr. N is a noted treat connoisseur so all of his treats have to be high value to find worth in his eyes. When looking for training treats, I look for treats that I can keep in my purse, high value and easy to break up. So things like jerky are good, hard biscuits are not. In times of need, I’ll pull out the cheese and real meats.
If we’re clicker training at home, I can use medium tier rewards that are soft and easy to swallow like Buddy Biscuits. If we’re out walking and working on his reactivity or recall, then I want high value treats like that can take a little while to chew. If he’s chewing, he’s not barking! For small dogs or dogs that go through a lot of training treats, Ziwipeak is a good solution. It’s on the pricey side but it’s nutritionally balanced and easy to break up, so you can use it as a meal and for treats (especially for dogs like Mr. N that won’t regularly eat kibble).
Toy rewards fall into roughly three categories. Balls, tugs and squeaky toys. And of course there’s hybrid toys that have elements of two or all three. Dogs seem to go on extremes on this. They love toys or they’re meh. I’ve tried a variety of toys including fur tugs but Mr. N doesn’t find toys rewarding enough to work for. Not unless they’re paired with food.
So on the occasion that I do use toys with him, they’re food stuffable toys like the lotus ball. The ball has several sides that are lined with velcro that the dogs can tear open to get the food inside. Toys like these are good if you’re trying to build up your dog’s toy drive and/or if your dog simply refuses to work for toys but will for food.
Things to keep in mind about toy rewards are don’t let your dog have free access to toy rewards or they will lose their value. It doesn’t mean your dog can’t have toys, just that you should save special toys for when you’re working with them. And you should generally supervise your dogs with toy use anyway but these type of toys especially won’t hold up to free play for destructive chewers. Particularly the food toys. If you want your toys to last and be rewarding, use with supervision.
If I could keep a squirrel in my pocket, Mr. N would happily work for the squirrel all day. Seeing as how that isn’t possible, his functional life rewards include things like getting to say hi to people or dogs, getting to sniff a particular patch of grass, chasing squirrels, and receiving attention.
That’s basically how I trained him to loose leash walk by teaching him that if he walked nicely, he would get to go sniff that tree/plant/grass and go mark on it. If I gave him a treat every time he stopped pulling, he would be the size of a teeny tiny barge.
What are your dog’s favorite rewards?
Welcome to First Monday’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Tenacious Little Terrier, Travels with Barley and Wag ‘n Woof Pets. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below. Our theme for this month is rewards but any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are also always welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long.