The Power of Rewards

August 12, 2019

It is a simple, but well-known fact in the dog training world, that dogs will do what is good for them.


They do what is rewarding to them.


It’s All In The Reward


We really can’t have a blog post


about rewards and how responsive your dog is to the rewards on offer, without making it abundantly clear that dogs will do what is rewarding to them.


It is the first rule of dog training.


The trouble is that what your dog finds rewarding is not the same as what we think she finds rewarding.


What gets rewarded gets repeated.


This is the first law of how dogs learn. However, the second law of dog training is just as significant as the first one, and that law is:


Rewards need to be rewarding. 


You might think that it is enough to praise your dog by telling her “Good Girl” or “Clever Girl”.


However, when you are saying that, your dog will be thinking: “that is all well and good and extremely nice of you to say so... But that scent over there is mighty interesting”. Before you know it, she will be pulling you off your feet and ignoring your pleas to come back to heel, rather following the scent that has piqued her interest.


The rewards that you offer your dog for doing the things you want her to do, like walking nicely on a loose lead, must be exciting enough to convince her that the better deal is to stay with you. 


You need to find that one thing that your dog values above all else.


The reward you choose to use must be appealing enough to stop her pulling on the lead as soon as an intoxicating smell wafts across her nose or a leaf tumbles and dances in the wind catching her attention. 


It sounds so easy when dog trainers tell you to use a treat to reward your dog for doing something right.


The truth though is that using rewards when training your dog is not as simple as it first appears.


Yes, it is true that in an ideal world we reward the dog for making the right choices. However, your dog’s ability to respond to the rewards we are offering depends on a lot of different things.

Why Won’t My Dog Take Treats?


The first thing you must evaluate is whether your dog is in the right frame of mind to be able to take the rewards on offer.


 For example; if your dog gets scared by a loud bang, she will be unable to play with a toy or even eat a treat. Emotionally she will be preparing to flee. When you are running for your life, you do not need your digestive system. All the energy that would typically go into digesting food is now being diverted to her muscles to allow her to get away faster.  


This means that a scared dog is physically unable to take or eat treats.


Finding The Magic Reward


Secondly, if the reward you are offering your dog doesn't trump the reward she is getting from following her instinct, then she will do what she finds more rewarding, ignoring any instructions coming from you.


Let’s assume your dog’s ultimate reward is following rabbit scents. Your dog typically loves treats. However, you have tried all sorts of different food rewards and, in this sit