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Rewards & Motivation- What Does Your Dog Find Rewarding?

Pounds? Dollars? Euros? They all mean something to us, right? Money is our currency; it rewards us for all of our hard work at the end of each month. Money often can have a very powerful sway over an individual’s mood, emotions and decisions. Money for most of us is positively reinforcing.

Would you work for free? Some would answer yes but if you had to work for free, it wouldn’t be too long before you felt unmotivated and underappreciated and not before long you’d quit your job. That is not to say that working for free such as volunteering doesn't have many benefits.

So what does this have to do with dogs? Do you know your dog's currency? I believe dogs should be paid for all the hard work that they do. Dogs shouldn’t be expected to work for free. For example, asking your dog to do something just because you said so is like your boss asking you to work for free for a week. I don’t think so! There are certain behaviours where 'payment' is needed throughout the dog's life. Over time some behaviours can be easily lost, recall is a good example of this. Recall can be an owner's worst nightmare in terms of training, as we are trying to compete with a very exciting playground of goodies for our dogs. If you put yourself in your dog's shoes, If your owner called you back but you were busy enjoying yourself just think how difficult it would be to come away from something enjoyable for just a pat on the head and a well done. Praise alone for recall doesn't really cut the mustard, but if you were presented with some juicy steak each time you ran back to your owner's beck and call, then you're probably more likely to give up the fun environment to return to your owners.

Rewarding your dog with something that they enjoy after they have done what you have asked or when they’ve made a great choice will motivate your dog to keep learning and their good behaviour will most likely be repeated. A behaviour that is positively reinforced by you or by something in the environment will encourage the dog to perform that behaviour in the future.

Functional rewards are types of rewards that we give to our dogs that meet a dog's needs at that particular moment. It needs to be something that the dog wants to receive.

For example, if you ask your dog to sit, your dog sits and you immediately give your dog a piece of chicken the behaviour of sitting has been positively reinforced and guess what your dog will keep offering you a sit.

A dog’s currency can be anything that your dog enjoys such as food, toys, a tummy tickle or chasing a squirrel. Pay attention to your dog and work out what they like, do they prefer hotdogs to cooked chicken? Do they have a favourite toy? What is their favourite game? It is so important to know your dog, as no two dogs are the same and may not necessarily have the same enjoyment. Rank your dog's favourite things in order, so that you know when it comes to something that is more challenging for your dog you can bring out the jackpot treat, the highest ranked reward that your dog loves!

Food increases the level of dopamine in the dog's brain, Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. Studies have shown that dogs don’t want petting or soothing words as much as they prefer a primary reinforcer (food).

They prefer petting over soothing words, and they prefer food over petting. Scientists also found that if you want a dog to try harder, learn faster, and work for reward then you need to release dopamine. Food is a great tool in dog training, it can help completely change a dog's behaviour. I always recommend reducing your dog's food portion when giving lots of treats during the day.

Positive Reinforcement Dog Training
Dog Training Rewards

The most common rewards I use whilst dog training are tasty treats, however other rewards such as praise and toys can also be effective.

There are several reasons why I use food rewards.

1. I want to get as many repetitions into a training session, by giving the dog a small treat that can be eaten quickly really speeds things up. If I had to throw a ball after every correct repetition then I wouldn’t get much done in a single session.

2. Dogs need to eat and most dogs love food. I like to use one of their meals to train, some dogs will work happily for their regular food.

3. It's easy to switch between different values of rewards for certain behaviours, this can help to keep your dog interested and focused during training sessions.

I use a variety of rewards when training my dog Luna. I know which treats I need to use for certain situations and behaviours, Luna’s highest value reward is cooked ham, chicken and fish or her Frisbee, her middle-of-the-road treat can be premium shop-bought treats such as thrive or Beautiful Joes Liver treats and her low value treats is a standard dried dog biscuit.

Experiment with your dog and find out what they like, It's good fun and it can massively help you out during training and in everyday life.

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