Training Rewards For Every Dog

Click and treat. Click and treat.

Do you always associate positive training with food treats? Because maybe there’s a better training reward for your dog.

Honey the golden retriever in trees.

You could reward me for posing by putting the camera away and letting me finish my walk.

Not Every Dog Finds Treats A Treat

In positive reinforcement, you train your dog to associate a behavior you want her to do with something she finds rewarding.

Many dogs, especially my dog Honey, find food highly motivating.

Honey the golden retriever poses with Only Natural Pet dog food.

Okay, I sat still in front of my breakfast. Now where’s my reward?

But some dogs don’t find food as enticing. Or they have diet issues that make food treats tough.

And sometimes, even if your dog loves food, it’s just not convenient to reward him with a treat.

So what are some other ways to reward your dog during training that aren’t food?

Non-Food Training Rewards

Here are a few that work for me and Honey:

Touch – When Honey comes running to me when I call her, I let her stop half way between my legs. It puts her in the perfect place to get vigorous scratches down her back and the base of her tail.

She loves it.

How does your dog like to be touched?

Honey the golden retriever in a compromising position.

We’re demonstrating the best position for butt scratchies.

Found Toys – Yeah, I can spend big bucks on dog toys. But Honey is just as happy chewing on a stick or pine cone.

Honey the golden retriever chews a stick.

Yummy. It takes so “stick-y.”

While we’re training outdoors, I keep my eyes open for fun things to toss for her after she does something awesome (like not eating the goose poop on the path).

Does your dog like to play?

Wrestling – Actually, this is more my husband’s thing with Honey. My dog doesn’t think much of my wrestling skills.

But some physical dogs love being bowled over by their person and playing on the ground.

Sure, you might both get grass stains. But is it a good reward for your dog?

Digging – To reward Honey for swimming with me, I reward her by letting her dig on the beach.

It’s easy to get her started. But she leaves me behind in seconds.

Golden Retriever digging

China, here I come!

A second benefit is that digging is almost as tiring as training. You’ll have one tired dog when you get home.

A Drive – No one was more disappointed when we got rid of our car than Honey.

Why not practice “wait” and “leave it” near your car and reward your pup with a slow drive with all the windows open?

Honey the Golden Retriever as seen in the rear view mirror of the car.

The dog is closer than she appears.

Greeting Strangers – Honey loves everyone. I’ve found no better reward for a calm greeting than giving my golden girl a release cue so she can fall all over some dog-loving stranger.

Avoiding Strangers – Of course, not every dog is an extrovert. And for some dogs, the best reward for remaining calm around strangers is to turn off and avoid them before getting too close.

Nope, Honey doesn’t understand it. But my previous reactive dogs learned quickly that looking at me instead of barking and lunging would cause me to lead them away from whatever might freak them out.

Play Time With Other Animals – Honey enjoys playing with other dogs. And even cats.

If Honey is calm and polite when greeting another animal, I like to reward her with some loose-leash play time.

Olive the guinea pig eating hay.

Honey would love to play with her “cousin” Olive but I think Honey would find it far more rewarding than Olive would.

By the way, don’t try this with your dog and smaller critters if she has a strong prey drive.

Adding Non-Food Rewards

You can probably think of dozens of rewards your dog enjoys.

The key is to teach your dog to associate the behavior you asked for with the reward you offer when they do it.

I use a clicker to mark when Honey does something right. But when we’re on a walk and I don’t have my clicker, I use the word “yes” in a flat tone to let Honey know she has done something good.

I then follow the click or verbal marker with a reward.

Yes, popping a soft treat in her mouth is easier. But it can be fattening. And it’s not always the most fun.

Your Turn: How do you reward your dog when training? I’m always looking for new ideas.

 

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Comments

  1. Mike Webster says:

    From the Husband:
    An excellent strategy, especially insofar as it might leave more soft treats for me. (I’m highly food-motivated.)

  2. Good suggestions – non-food rewards are better for their waistline too.

  3. These are great tips that I didn’t even think of so they aren’t so reliant on the treats!

  4. These are all great ideas. I’ve mostly used treats or praise so far, but we definitely need to broaden our horizons! Luke loves to ride in the car so that one would work very well for him.

  5. Fab tips. Mity and Poppy are so funny when they meet each other, they sniff through the bars of the cage. But I wouldn’t let either or them close without the bars in between, I think it would give Poppy a heart attack!

  6. Excellent alternatives! I think we sometimes just grab the treats out of habit and don’t make it a conscious thing-like auto-pilot. With super smart dogs, it can become all about the treats only, not so much reward for good behavior. :)

  7. Lately I’ve started giving Delilah the touch and verbal praise. She prefers the treat but she’ll tolerate it. LOL

  8. My dogs would just look at me and go, “Siriusly, where is the food?”

    I use cat kibble. It’s tiny so I’m not concerned about calories and it must taste good because my cat will only eat that and the dogs never complain.

  9. My one girl Mika isn’t very treat motivated when it comes to training. I use simple praise with her and she seems to do much much better with that!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  10. Aw, Honey is so sweet and personable. Nala doesn’t really want to meet strangers out in the world–she’s too busy cataloging everything she sees and smells.

    Our rewards–and their values–change a lot depending on where we’re training. I think that doing something for the opportunity to chase water sprayed from the hose is Nala’s favorite, favorite thing, but it’s not very portable! I also like varying the way I deliver treats–adding some treat tosses is a surefire way to increase Nala’s enthusiasm. On walks, she offers focus/heeling for an opportunity to stick her head in a storm drain! Those are our most interesting ones.

  11. For nose work and tracking high value food is the reward, but for photos and many other every day things it is some extra loving which we all love to get.

  12. Margaret T. says:

    We often train in the yard, where it’s easy to follow up things like a good stay or a moving down or stand with a release to a thrown tennis ball. A good tug is fun, too. “Get it! Tug tug tug!”

  13. Nola is very food motivated, so that’s primarily what I do with her. However, I can also use the environment with her: for a nice heel, she can walk ahead of me as long as she’s not pulling hard. For off leash work, she can run once her game is complete. For not jumping on me when I get home, she can jump into my arms on cue.

  14. Cody is very food driven so food and praise is our primary reward. A quick game of tug or a kick of a soccer ball, is also a great reward! I recently heard about a product called the Busy Buddy Rip n tug. It’s a toy and a treat – it looks really good!

  15. I do get treats when training, but I’m not really motivated by food. I love hearing how good or clever I am in a special voice that they use. I love being scratched behind my ears and a quick game is always welcome as a reward.

  16. Harley is okay with high praise and rub downs sometimes. But if I start with treats, I’d better be consistent with it!