Part 3 in Rewards Series – Motivating Rewards Other than Food

This is the third in a series on using positive reward- based training. It is brought to you by AKC GoodDog! Helpline trainer Breanne Long. The AKC GoodDog! Helpline provides seven-day-a-week telephone support from experienced dog trainers. 

In part 1 of this series we discussed why and how to use treat rewards in training. In part 2 we talked about fading the lure so you don't always have to be holding a treat for your dog to listen; in this final installment we will discuss other things you can use to reward your dog!

Treats are a great, and easy, way to reward your dog for following cues. However, they're not the only way you can let your dog know she did something right. There are many times during your normal day where your dog is looking forward to something; these things are inherently valuable to your dog, and you can use these as opportunities to train! 

Tug-of-war (see article on AKC Training site how to play tug-of-war safely with your dog) is a great way to reward your dog. It's a fun game that most dogs love to play. It also teaches impulse control. For example, get a game of tug going with your dog. Then ask her to release the toy. Ask her to sit. As soon as she sits, get her tugging again! She'll soon be sitting as quickly as she can so she can get back to the game of tug with you.

When your dog is eagerly anticipating you setting her bowl down on floor, you have a perfect opportunity to train! Your dog wants something and you want to practice "down," for example. Ask your dog to down (assuming your dog knows this cue) and wait for her to respond. If she responds promptly, praise her and put her food down. If she doesn't lie down, simply put the bowl on the counter and wait for 15-20 seconds. Try again, pick up the bowl, ask her to down, etc. Repeat this process until she lies down as soon as you ask.

Many dogs, especially hound breeds, prefer sniffing over any other reward. Yes, you can use this to your advantage too! A crate can be very helpful in this scenario as it prevents your dog from sniffing if he doesn't do as you ask. In this example we'll be asking for eye contact. Take your dog to an area that you know he loves to sniff. Ask him for eye contact. If he complies, verbally praise him and encourage him to sniff. If he ignores you and tries to sniff anyway calmly put him in his crate. Wait 15-20 seconds and bring him out and ask again. This may take a few repetitions until your dog realizes the only way he will get to sniff is to first give you eye contact. It may take several sessions to build up to sustained eye contact. If your dog is struggling with this, only ask for a second or two at first and build up to longer periods. Make sure you mark the correct behavior with a clicker or verbal marker. For example, the moment your dog meets your eyes click or use your verbal marker (such as saying “yes” or “good”) to let your dog know what he has done correctly.

Most dogs look forward to going for a walk. They see you put on your sneakers and get excited. They see you take out their leash and get even more excited. Then you try to put the leash on and your dog is wiggling with so much excitement that you can't even attach his leash to his collar! Finally you manage to attach his leash and quickly head out the door. You may not realize it but you just rewarded your dog for wiggling and making it hard for you to attach his leash. Each time you go through this ritual, your dog is learning that wiggling and making your job harder earns him a walk! Instead, try asking your dog to sit while you attach his leash. If he pops out of the sit and jumps around, simply hang up the leash and walk away. Wait a minute or two and try again. Your dog will learn this new ritual and sit as soon as he sees you reaching for his leash, because he knows the quicker he sits (and remains sitting!) the quicker he gets to go for a walk!
Sit for leash

This training method is known as the Premack Principle, which in layman's terms means "you have to eat your vegetables before you can have dessert.” Your dog does what you want (sit, down, eye contact, etc.) and is rewarded by getting what he wants (play, a meal, sniffing, going for a walk, etc.) The benefits of using these inherently valuable things are that your dog learns to respond quickly. She knows that the faster she responds to your cues, the faster she gets to eat, go for a walk, chase a squirrel, etc.

To get individualized advice for training your dog, enroll in the AKC GoodDog! Helpline. Experienced trainers are available seven days a week to take your calls and answer your training questions: