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