The Value of Rewards

Scott McGuinness

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Time again we hear “my dog isn’t motivated by food/toys’ and time again we find the opposite true.

This is not magic, it’s experimentation and experience. Using the wrong type of reward in your training can not only plateau your progress but damage your relationship with the dog.

Have you spent time getting to know your dog and their motivators? Have you, in the words of our good friend Cat Saunders from The K9 Company “Date your dog!”.

Frankie

What is a Reward?

A reward should be reinforcing for our dogs behaviour. A reinforcement is anything that makes our dogs behaviour stronger or more likely to occur. Sometimes the reinforcement is inadvertent for those unwanted behaviours which we will discuss another time.

For many a dogs, a reward comes in the form of food. Yet, there are other forms such as toys, play, and affection. Your dog is the only one who defines what is rewarding or punishing, not the trainer.

DicedPork_LG

Experiment

If you dog is motivated by food, then what type elicits more of an excited response? Experiment with different types and see how they can affect your dog’s behaviour and your training.
For example, Canine Connect’s ‘Kato’ will spit out any vegetable based reward. Offer Kato a toy or pat for his behaviours and he will very quickly switch off. He will take kibble but not be overly motivated and will happily work for diced luncheon meat.

But bring out the smallest piece of cheese and he will bounce of the walls. He will offer every single behaviour he knows in his repertoire and often try something new. Just to have a ‘whiff’ of that piece of a ‘Coon’.

Kato Menu for web
If using toys in training, what toys? A ball? a flirt pole? a tug? Do you have one toy you use in training that the dog does not have access to at any other time? Do you use food for your training repetitions then end with play with your dog’s favourite toy?

Is it the toy that is rewarding or the activity with you and the toy they find the value?

These are all important questions we should be asking before jumping into the deep end of training.

Cha-Ching!

We often relate the rewards we are using to money. We humans love money, money is great, money keeps us alive, money is easy to understand due to it having a numerical value.

Experimenting with different types of rewards may elicit different response from your dog, some high, some low, some $5, some $100. Relating your dogs rewards to a monetary can help you understand what your dog has been ‘paid’ for their efforts.

Before you know it you will have a good reference of what your dogs ‘reward menu’ looks like. You now have a handy guide for you and your family in what you can use to reward those behaviours you want.

In the above video, we can see how Pippy’s enthusiasm for training goes from high for the food to ‘MENTAL” for the ball. This experimenting helps us to understand what we can use in our training toolbox to elicit different responses. These responses may change with the environment and knowing what she finds as a higher or lower value can be essential to achieving our goals.

What may be a valuable reward in the home may need to increase outside of the home during the early stages of training.

In conclusion, know your dog and what they find valuable in rewards, doing so can help your relationship and your training. Do not let others bully you into feeling bad for using a particular type of reward, it’s your dog, you do what works best for you.

Experiment with different types, assign them a monetary value and always have fun.