Food vs Toy. How to reward a dog?

Reward based dog training simply means praising a dog when he responds to you or offers appropriate behaviour. This way the behaviour will more likely be repeated in the future as it is a good deal for the dog.

Through reward based training methods we can not only train our dogs but also change their emotional response, for example lead reactivity.

 

Most common rewards are tasty treats and the dog’s favourite toy.
But which one is better?

Well, the answer is not that simple. It depends on what you are planning to achieve, what your dog finds rewarding, what behaviour you are training, what sort of level of arousal you need (is this a calm exercise like down or more energetic - recall for example) and is the environment appropriate for the reward you want to use.

Also, it is important how many repetitions you want to accomplish during a training session. For example, within 2 minutes you will get more sits when rewarding with food that a tuggy toy.

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A reward can be:

food (for some dogs kibble, for others liver cake)
the way of food delivery
toy or a favourite object
play with other dog
chewing
sniffing
letting your dog off lead
touch
verbal praise
chase
swimming
scent games
jumping up
training session
rolling on back

The truth is there is more than food or toys available to be used as a reward!

Whatever your dog finds motivating, it can be used as a reward. Remember, every dog is different - what works for Beagle might not work for Labrador.

I have a little exercise for you - make a list (or copy our examples) of things that might be used as a reward, then next to each one write in a scale from 1 to 10 in ‘canine currency’ how much would the thing be worth to your dog?
Now you have a powerful weapon, use it wisely!

Let me add something even more geeky - your dog’s breed. Do a bit of research and check what was your dog genetically bred to do, that will give you an idea of what your dog likes to do and what he is good at.

People often ask: When can I start reducing reward?
Why would you? Using reinforcement allows owners to progress, have well trained dogs and creates beautiful relationship between human and their canine friend. Never stop! Mix it up, experiment and have fun!

Justyna Marszalek