One of the cornerstones of effective positive reinforcement training is rewarding your dog correctly, and this entails everything from using the appropriate type of reward to the timing of the reward and more.
In this guide, we’re going to share some tips on how to make your rewards more effective – which will ultimately make your dog more receptive to you in general, as well as make them listen to all your commands quickly and readily.
Dogs Need Encouragement
First of all, dogs need constant encouragement when they’re being trained. Food snacks, toys, physical praise and verbal praise from an owner are all very powerful rewards for your dog.
Using these tools is essential for making your dog feel rewarded throughout the training process.
Choosing Powerful Rewards
There’s a variety of rewards you can offer your dog, but it’s worth experimenting with a few different ones to see what your dog is most responsive to.
Food rewards are often the most powerful, and simply holding a food treat above your dog’s nose can attract and keep their attention pretty easily, especially if they love the treat in question. This also works best when your dog is hungry, so you can plan meal times around training sessions to make the best use of this fact.
Physical praise and verbal encouragement are also very effective, especially when you’ve had time to bond with your dog. Your warm approval will feel very satisfying to your pet, and it will help to build a great relationship between the two of you. Over time, you should rely less on food treats and more on physical praise too, whenever possible.
Using toys can be very motivating for your dog as well. As an incentive, show your dog a favorite toy but give a command to perform before they’re given the toy to play with.
This method works well when you’ve discovered which toy your dog likes best, and you can use this to keep their attention when you want to teach him something new.
Every dog has their own personal preferences for snack foods and toys. You should watch your dog’s behavior to learn what they like best, and then only give these special treats as rewards for wanted behavior. Food rewards work for most dogs, but some will always prefer toys – so it’s worth bearing this in mind.
During training sessions, keep snacks and small toys with you at all times to keep both areas covered, and to keep your dog guessing!
“Punishing” Bad Behavior
Physical punishment should never be used to discipline a dog under any circumstances. As we’ve said before, it’s not only cruel, but it’s largely ineffective – because your dog is unlikely to understand what the punishment is for.
It can also lead to aggressive, fear-based behavior such as biting, nipping and growling – and ultimately make your dog scared and fearful of you.
But what should you do to “punish” bad behavior, if you must? One thing you can do is to ‘ignore’ him temporarily. If positive attention is used to reward, then an absence of that attention will feel like a ‘punishment’ to some extent.
This works especially well for puppies who misbehave, such as play biting too hard.
While rewarding your dog seems like a pretty simple process (and it generally is), there are still a few common mistakes that are worth taking into consideration, to make sure you’re not doing them!
Firstly, patting your dog on the head can be a form of physical praise, but it’s also disliked by some dogs, and won’t be interpreted as the praise you may intend.
In general, it’s not as effective as other types of physical praise. For example, virtually every dog will enjoy long strokes along the length of their body, and this is a much better reward for your dog from his point of view.
Giving Too Many Toys
If you’re giving your dog too many toys, this can cause issues at some point. For example, they may begin to think this means that they are allowed to chew anything – because he associates his toys with general stuff he sees in the house.
As a simple rule of thumb, it’s usually best to stick to just a handful of toys – anywhere from 3 to 5. What’s more, it’s important to ensure these toys don’t look like anything else you may have around your home either, just to avoid any confusion.
Show You Have Treats!
If your dog doesn’t seem very responsive, then showing that you have treats should help to get the attention you need.
However, it’s important that you don’t actually give the treat without your dog performing a command first – otherwise, you’re teaching your dog that they’ll get the reward regardless of their behavior.
As you may suspect, this could lead to your dog ignoring your commands in the future.
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Get The Timing Right
Timing is crucial when you reward your dog. Overall, it’s best to make sure you praise and reward your dog the instant they respond to your command – and you definitely need to reward within 2 seconds of a successfully performed command for best results.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to cut down on rewards slightly when your dog starts to follow the command regularly – especially food rewards – as they become more accustomed to performing the command.
Why is this important? Well, otherwise, you may risk “watering down” the effectiveness of your rewards, which can make future training sessions more challenging when it comes to holding your dog’s attention and making them feel suitably rewarded.
You can still give the occasional food reward to keep them on their toes (and thinking they might get a food reward next time), but soon enough your dog will be content with the satisfaction of verbal praise from you – and this is a good position to be in as a dog owner.
It also saves those treats for when you need to fix an aspect of behavior, or even when you want to teach a new command or a new trick.