One of the biggest keys to success with positive reinforcement training is rewarding your dog properly. This means giving him something he loves at exactly the right moment. Your first task is to figure out what kind of reward will best motivate your dog.
How To Train Dogs & Food Treats
All dogs are unique individuals. Most dogs are motivated by food that tastes and smells good to them. Food treats can be very small, which is handy for keeping them in your pocket or a pouch to use during training—and important to maintaining your dog’s caloric intake to healthy levels. So that’s the form of reward we’ll be using throughout this training.
Be sure what you’re giving your dog is good for him. But don’t rely on the packing of store-bought treats to tell you “Your dog will love it!” Strong-smelling meat and cheese treats are usually winners, but many store-bought treats are made primarily of other ingredients. Your dog may not appreciate artificial colors, tastes or smells. Small morsels of cooked chicken are a popular home-made treat. But keep in mind that what motivates other dogs may not motivate yours. Experiment and find out what he loves to eat.
What if your dog isn’t motivated by food (rare, but a possibility)? You’ll have to find something else that motivates him. You may think a couple of pats on the head are a great reward, but your dog may not. He might not even like it (most dogs don’t)! Try scratching his belly or some other form of petting. Again, experiment to find out what your dog loves. Another form of reward to consider is play. Tossing a ball, playing tug-of-war, or playfully chasing your dog for a few minutes may be his idea of heaven.
The Best Reward
Let your dog show you what he truly loves. He’ll do this with his reaction to the reward you offer. You just need to pay attention to how he responds. Just because he accepts a piece of kibble doesn’t necessarily mean he loves it. Watch him carefully when you’re giving him a treat, petting, or playing with him. If he looks away or walks away, he probably isn’t all that thrilled about what you’re offering. But if he gets excited, stays close and begs for more, he’s showing you that he loves it and will be willing to work for that reward in the future. For initial training, we highly recommend using a food treat as the reward. It’s the easiest to work with and gets the fastest results…just make sure your dog really likes it!
Timing is a key ingredient when it comes to how to train dogs.
After you figure out the form of reward, the second key to positive reinforcement is timing. This is critical during early training: you must give the reward immediately after your dog performs the correct action. This means within half-a-second! Your response to his correct action must be clear and it must be instant. If you pause in stunned amazement that he actually did something right, then snap out of it and give him a treat several seconds later, you’ve blown it.
You must train yourself to deliver instant gratification to your dog. Do this consistently, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your dog learns.