What Is A Reward For A Dog.


Staff member
What does everyone think when I say "Rewards and reward based training"? Most people will think treats. but I think we need a discussion about what rewards actually are.

Reward = what the dog wants. as simple and as complicated as that.

Here are some examples.

When housetraining a dog, we all know to reward the dog when it does it's buisness, but what is a very powerful motivator? a walk. What if, instead of giving a food treat, you immediately took the dog for a walk? and I dont mean walking the dog and during said walk he poos, I mean taking a dog to his toilet spot, then immediately after elimination, he gets a "good BOY! Lets go for a walk!", and away you go.

A game of tug or fetch, will often be a stronger motivator for a dog than food. With Oliver, when I want him wound up for certain tricks, I'll use a ball instead of treats, if I want him calm, I use treats, both are motivating, but one is really, REALLY special!

Another not very thought of reward is removing a dog from a fear inducing stimulus. In that way, I reward Ollie for growling when he's afraid (as stated on the other thread that this idea came from)

Another one is allowing a dog to get to go play with another dog, or off leash time. I'll often use off leash rewards. I ask Ollie to heel, he heels for however many steps we're working on, I click then unclip the leash and give the "go play" command... HE LOVES IT! and he's less distracted when being motivated by off leash play, than with food.

And getting to do his favorite trick is also motivating for him... jumping up into my arms is his absolute favorite trick, and after an excellent performance of a complicated trick, I'll often ask for a "jump up!"

For Mouse, she is extremely motivated to give kisses, so I may let her give me a kiss as a reward.

And for some dogs, a pat or a cuddle is more than enough.

Every dog is different, what they want can be anything. You can have rewards more powerful than any treat out there, if you just take the time to ask "what is it you want?"


Honored Member
Thanks for starting this thread Sara.

Zac has never been all that keen on food generally, today he carried a reward hotdog away from me and spat it out on the other side of the room before coming back to go on with training. This evening he refused freshly cooked chicken (just before his dinner so he was hungry O_o). There is nothing wrong with him, food just isn't all that important. If I introduce treats (I'm talking hotdog sausages!) into training involving a football Zac instantly becomes halfhearted. When the last treat is gone you can see him switch on, "Great," he says, "now that stupid food is out of the way we can really get going!"

Zac taught me early that I needed a lot more than food rewards but I still had and probably still have lots of misconceptions, here are a few of my mistakes with rewards, you will see that my overall fault was to skimp/cheat on rewards:

Working sheepdogs are not trained with "rewards", nor are working lurchers, nor are working spaniels the dog obeys because it respects it's owner. THIS IS SO SO WRONG! Once you widen your ideas of rewards you realise that these dogs all get the ultimate rewards that they live for - the sheepdog herds sheep, the lurcher chases rabbits and the spaniel gets to carry a soft warm delectable bird in its mouth. For these dogs these experiences are quite simply the best things that life could ever offer. Offer Zac food or a running rabbit and there is no doubt which he'd choose, If I could carry rabbit warren in my back pocket and release a rabbit for Zac to chase every time he obeyed me I'd have the best trained, happiest dog in the world :).

A reward has to happen quickly or the dog doesn't associate it with the right behaviour (KIND OF RIGHT) so this means the reward should be of short duration (WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!). I've learned to take a lot of time giving rewards, now in a training session Zac might have 30 seconds training:5 minutes reward play or petting, he loves it, "Oh so she wants me to put that ball in the basket again, well I'll do it first time and then we can get right back to playing."

It doesn't matter what size a food reward is. Totally wrong (for Zac anyway). Zac now does a quarter of the repetitions for 4x the size of treat and he learns faster and is more responsive. For Zac regular medium treats are more reliable than small treats with occasional large jackpots. Not all dogs are the same.

I can train him to perfect a trick while using it as a reward. VERY counter productive. I made the mistake of trying to smarten up Zac's retrieve while using tennis ball play as a reward. A reward is a reward, training is training.

That reward worked for one aspect of training so it'll work for everything. NOT TRUE.
Our current rewards and example uses are:
shop bought treats (default),
hotdogs and fresh chicken (new/difficult training - skateboard, basketball, jump rope)
tennis ball play, football and chasing each other around (for active training - recall, retrieve, basketball)
long petting sessions (when we're tired during active training),
play with other dogs (normally to reward him coming to me when another dog comes in sight),
chasing rabbits (recall),
and anything else he likes at the time (except roadkill so far:sick:).


Honored Member
It is what I used to think. Treats are the best way to get a dog to do something.
For Cooper food is a high motivator, but not always. He is difficult for me to read, sometimes. But play seems to work other times, or letting him take a swim.
Jinx is food motivated, but she loves a game of tug, or to catch a frisbee.
I trained her to do the distant down with play, no food at all, and she loved it!
I walk a dog, that is fearfull of being touched. She is a rescue and with her owners she is totally fine. But she has bad hind legs(arthritis and a bad patella) and often has difficulties getting into my car. I am not allowed to help her and she will jump in, even though I know she is in pain. So I am training her to, at the very least, not mind to be touched by me.
I started to touch her, just a slight touch and then go away and ignore her. I can tickle under her chin now and she actually seems to like it. She allows me to touch her legs, that was a big thing.
She had me thinking, because she doesn't take food at all. She loves playing with a ball or stick, so during the walk I'll use that. I touch, then throw the ball. We have a long way to go, but we're getting there.
It is a matter of looking at your dog and knowing what he or she likes.


Staff member
The other thing people get wrong alot of the time is inadvertently rewarding bad or wrong behaviour. Dog barks to look at him and tell him to shut up... what you're thinking you did, and what your dog thinks are two totally different things. You thought you gave him heck, he thought "hey, I barked, she looked, so barking gets me attention! and THEN she barked back! How FUN!"

Recognizing what you are rewarding is very important, and even the slightest bit of attention can be a reward for a dog.

Boo had a bad habit of barking when he wanted fed, or a walk, or play, or was just darn happy. I never corrected his barking... I just turned around and stomped away into another room with my arms crossed (deaf dogs need exaggerated body movement)... his barking is minimal now, though he sometimes forgets himself. but I ALWAYS turned and stomped away, I never forgot, and I never missed... I corrected Boo's barking almost completely within a couple of months of adopting him... he was 6.5 years old, and likely had the habit most of his life. If I had corrected him, he would likely still be barking.


Honored Member
Great thread!!
I use teeny bits of real meat, or hot dogs, or peanut butter. My dog does not change his performance whatsoever for larger treats, and my dog even scours the kitchen floor for the TINIEST of crumbs, no treat is too small for Buddy.
He does perform differently for cheese (not as good) vs dabs of peanut butter (YES!) or meat or LIVER, actually, liver gets him so excited he can barely refocus, ha ha, i have to save liver for jackpots.

I also use tugging a specific toy that he likes very much, also as a reward. I ask him to bring me that toy, drop it, and put toy behind me. He waits excitedly, doing his cues, waiting...waiting, hoping and waiting for the tug game, then we play tug after his practice session. I have not completely got the hang of using tugging as a clicker treat, when he is getting clicked several times in short succession, step by step training, youknow?? but, i'm getting there. Seems to get him TOO excited to refocus so far.

I sort of think, i might use different types of rewards for training sessions/LEARNING a cue, VS general behavior, if you know what i mean. Hard to explain. Lol, it is not hard to get Buddy SO excited he has trouble settling back down to refocus on the trick and continue lessons, haha.
Like, if i took Buddy for walk, at each step of the training session, it's too interruptive, but, i should start having him do something prior to each walk, i guess, eh?

After EACH session, always, i play TOYS with Buddy, though. Every time. ONce i forgot, and he came and dumped a toy in my lap, like, "you forgot THIS part" and looked so sad and forlorn that i had not played toys with him, ha ha!!

Also, my particular dog LOVES praise. He just can not get enough of it, and literally beams when praised. Adorably, if i randomly praise him for nothing at all, the praise does NOT make him beam then. He'll smile, he likes it, but not the way he LOVES earned praise. Buddy seems to much appreciate EARNED praise far far far more than random praise. It's so cute to watch, you'd have to see him beam, just looks sooo proud if he has earned lavish praise.


Honored Member
The other thing people get wrong alot of the time is inadvertently rewarding bad or wrong behaviour.
Exactly! Here's another example I see almost every day. Dog tugs owner towards other dog, owner corrects dog in some way then allows dog to greet other dog... is the correction or the greeting going to imprint more strongly on the dog's memory? :rolleyes: Dog goes on tugging owner towards every dog it sees.


Honored Member
RDog, that is sooooooo true.
THIS IS SUCH A GREAT THREAD, SARA!!! I'm so glad you posted this. I've often heard, if we are not using good enough rewards,
it slows the dog's learning curve down.

//"Like, if i took Buddy for walk, at each step of the training session, it's too interruptive, but, i should start having him do something prior to each walk, i guess, eh?"//

Actually, i'd forgotten, i actually do, or was, rewarding Buddy's smile http://www.dogtrickacademy.com/members/forums/threads/when-youre-smiling-the-whole-world-smiles-with-you.3555/
by making him smile prior to each walk.

I'm glad i read this 'Rewards' thread, because it is helping me to remember to ask for smile prior to each walk. Adorabley, when Buddy wants a walk, he will come up and SMILE at me, ha ha! (Buddy was NOT, in general, a very smiley dog, so this is great that he now smiles more)


Honored Member
Staff member
Like Zac, Zeke (is it a "Z" thing?? ;) ) really challenged me and my training philosophy. When he was a puppy, the ONLY thing he cared about was attention. The absolute best reward I could give him was praise and petting. He could care how incredible the treat was, he didn't want it. He learned his basics only being rewarded with praise, which he was completely satisified with. When Mudflap joined the family she taught him how fun toys were, and that's when his tennis ball obsession was born. Now he does take bits of rolled dog food for rewards sometimes, but burns out VERY quickly, so I try to use his tennis ball as his jackpot. When we're working on greeting people or being comfortable in the presence of people, the best reward I can give him is to take him away from people. So if he greets someone on his own, or relaxes with a stranger or two around him, then we'll go off by ourselves and either just sit together or have some tennis ball time, just the two of us. Time with Mom and toys are still his favorite rewards. :)

He's picky and obsessive, but incredibly smart and I have learned so much from him as a trainer. He teaches me something new every day. :) I haven't worked with any more just yet, but I'm sure the more I work with competely toy-motivated dogs, the more I will love them. ^^

Mudflap is easy; she likes a large variety of food rewards and most of her tricks are taught with food rewards. Once she learns them, she's happy to perform it for toys, praise, or really anything rewarding. She enjoys performing tricks so much that just doing them is a reward in itself.

I try to really vary the types of rewards with all the dogs I work with, whether the reward is going outside, getting a massage, food, toys, praise, playing with other dogs, or even being left alone. I think it's a really important part of making sure your dog will work for anything and under any conditions.


Honored Member
Today Zac did an reluctant recall off from hunting out a partridge, he got a jackpot of treats (it was cold and raining so he was hungry) and lots of fuss, but his real reward was to go right back and put the partridge to flight. Poor old partridge, but that reward might just help some future victim that hasn't got wings to escape.


Honored Member
THAT'S HUGE, RDOG!! Sadly, once (ONCE) i did NOT call my dog off chasing animals, thinking he would stop since there was a river, and he loathed water at that time,
but nope, he jumped right in after it....and NOW i can't call him off a chase anymore....facepalm.
SO KUDOS TO YOU for THAT!! big round of applause!!


Honored Member
I know what you mean about the "ONCE," but honestly Buddy probably wouldn't have come back even the first time -​
chasing is just so much fun
It does become a lot harder to stop dogs chasing once they have had the experience :( but it teaches us a lot about training and rewards :).


Honored Member
lOL, YOU ARE SO RIGHT about the chasing! NO, unnnbelievably, Buddy had 100% recall for the first year or so that we had him, even if chasing animals, he'd stop and immediately run back, every time, no exceptions....deers, bunnies, cats, whatever, Buddy returned. I also suspect, that first year or so, Buddy's incredible obedience was due in part to maybe, maybe, he wasn't sure if he ever did break a rule, he'd lose his pack, who knows. He'd never had a home before, what did he know about how things work.
He remains an incredibly obedient dog, just ZERO behavior problems whatsoever, ever....just he doesn't like most other dogs.(but, he's working on it, and making progress) But other than his gangsta attitude towards most dogs,
he is an incredibly obedient dog, and always does as he is told, always.

I took THAT 100% recall for granted. If i could have a moment back, to have a do-over---in raising Buddy, THAT one would be one of them!!

See, he was chasing geese, just for giggles, he even looked like he thought the whole game was funny, Buddy knoew what geese were, he knew they'd fly away......... and i'd allow it, and as he got close to the river, i'd call him---he returned, every time. Everytime. Always.

Next goose, Buddy chased the goose, as he got close to the river, I called him, he returned. He wasn't familiar with that park and river, and it's hard to see the river, see? So i called him so he wouldn't accidentally jump into a river.

Third goose---drumroll----now i stupidly think, "Well, now Buddy has seen that river there, and he will stop at the river's edge now that he knows where the river is."
WRONG! Buddy took off chasing that 3rd goose, and as the goose jumped into the river----i spotted a slight hesitation in Buddy, probably listening for his name?---but, stupid me, said nothing, thinking he would NOT jump into a river, since he loathed water at that time. Buddy musta thought, "This goose *is* MINE---mom isn't saying anything this time!!!" and Buddy went on into the river after that goose!!

sigh. Poor Buddy went completely under water, it ws rushing fast and deep big river, and he is not good swimmer, took forever to come back to the surface, (i'm ripping my coat off to dive in) and when Buddy finally DID pop back up to the surface, he looked absolutely TERRIFIED. i jumped in too, to save him, finally caught up wiht him downstream, got his collar and pulled him to shore.........was big mess, and very scarey actually, that river is chockfull of logs and branches to get hung up on.
Since that day, Buddy no longer comes IF he is chasing prey.
Like a bomb went off in his head.
You'd almost think, the exxxtremely unpleasant ending---of going UNDER water, of being terrified with the whites of his eyes showing all around, being washed downstream, etc etc, would have had negative impact on his urge to continue a chase, right? nope.
His predator was unleashed.
HOw stupid ws I?? can you believe it? i was so dumb....i still can't believe how dumb i was....
i have NO idea how to get that 100% recall back. I haven't even worked on it (recall while chasing prey) for so long now. HIs recall IS 100%, solid, even long distance----SO LONG as he isn't chasing prey. All bets are off then.

i don't have a clue.

also, in working against recall with prey, is the fact my guy 'sics' Buddy onto bunnnies and the like, so poor Buddy is getting inconsistant--no --OPPOSITE messages there, from the various humans in the house. Teaching Buddy something, getting Buddy's co-operation, is way easier than my guy! sigh..


Honored Member
What an awful experience Tigerlily. Knowing what you've said about Buddy and other dogs I wonder if he now BLAMES the goose for his terrible experience so now he is out to punish ALL prey :ROFLMAO:. Maybe a little far fetched but you always said his brain is wired wrong.

It isn't actually such a derail as you think. Rewards based training is so important with recall. You see I have worked on this with Zac, alot.

I messed up with one particular recall when Zac was quite young. I just didn't reward him when he had done something absolutely amazing. He recalled from full flight after a badger. If there is one recall that probably saved his life it was that one, the badger would have ripped his throat out - and I was so shocked and paralyzed by the whole encounter I just grabbed his collar and held on.

Why didn't I throw a party, play a game, pet him, feed him, ANYTHING??? I don't know how big an impact that made on Zac's deteriorating recall in the general scheme of things but it can't have been good. The thing with chasing is that it is one of the ultimate training situations where you mustn't cheat the dog with your rewards. That is why I had to send Zac back to flush out the partridge, only that was a big enough reward for him coming back when I called. In other circumstances (deer, for instance) I'd have had to cheat him. On the other hand if he ever DID recall off a deer I'd likely scrape up every road kill between Land's End and John O'Groats and give him them as a one mountainous jackpot!


Honored Member
ha ha, too funny! High five from one dog owner to another, who admit we'd like a few re-do's here or there, ha ha!!
So you are also unable to recall Zac off of a deer? but you can call Zac off of other creatures, is that right?

but, you make a great point about recall DOES require ultimate rewards,
me, i'll have to start packing livers to go on walks, and you, Rdog, will have to lug around some road kill.


Honored Member
Some creatures... sometimes... remember Zac is a hunting dog that has not only chased but caught... that's why the partridge was still a triumph... and I HAD to reward him.

He often looks at me now just before he takes off after small things, I can choose "go on" or recall, if I call him in that instant he normally comes (occasionally he just goes "Yeah right!" and takes off :(). Now What is his reward for looking back? I suppose that sometimes the reward is the "go on" like a special kind of jackpot but I don't know what reward he gets other times :confused:. Is it just the recall jackpot?

Joking aside I really wonder if a smelly old rabbit skin would be the right reward...


Honored Member
Staff member
Lots of people here in the US use animal hides to train dogs to track certain animals, and when they find it the trainers often use it like a tug toy. Maybe Zac could have a rabbit hide to play with and maybe some rabbit treats for reward? :)

Zeke's problem is cats. When he sees a cat, he's in stock dog mode and wants to herd the tiny little pointy-eared sheep. My poor sweet cat is as dumb as they come, so she doesn't really herd.....she just sits there, like "What's up with you?" She loves dogs so she doesn't understand when a dog wants to eat or chase her. This of course only makes Z worse, because he thinks he needs to be more aggressive to accomplish his job: herd the pointy-eared sheep that refuses to move where he wants her to. Needless to say Z is not trustworthy alone with Elli. Last year we accomplished a huge feat: being able to call him away from a cat when separated by the glass panels in the back door. But I can't exactly reward him with the cat, lol. :LOL: He gets to play with his beloved tennis ball when he willingly leaves the cat. Not as rewarding, but still a very high value reward for him. I suppose I need to get him a couple of sheep to reward him with. LOL, I can imagine my conversations..."I have three dogs, a cat, and three horses. And my dog has two sheep."

Come to think of it....maybe Treiball is the answer for Zeke!!! :D Mini-revelation. I know what I'll be researching after work!


Honored Member
lol. Buddy is soo odd about cats, he is only interested in cats that are afraid. Cats who like him, he ignores. A cat who runs, sets him OFF!
I've actually observed Buddy, ignoring a cat who was licking Buddy's legs and rubbing all up against Buddy, while Buddy is straining at his leash to go chase a 2nd cat who was running away.

And oh, i *can* sometimes call Buddy off squirrels, Buddy is actually slightly afraid of squirrels.
Too funny, if he chases a squirrel,
but the squirrel stops,
Buddy also stops. He reeeeeeeally does NOT want to catch that squirrel. He must have gotten scratched up by some squirrel, and now, he reeeeally only wants to chase them, but not actually CATCH one.
He has caught and killed many many many bunnies, a very big woodchuck, a mole, tons of chipmunks, a mouse, and also has had run-ins with raccoons that Buddy lost, as well as losses to many skunks, more skunks than i care to recall.........he's never caught a deer, though, not even close, he can't keep up with deers. He's never caught a cat, that i know of.
OH! and a possum, who fooled me too!
I came out and found Buddy looking at a 'dead' possum, like very confused look on his face, too,
and i hit my forehead, "Oh no, Buddy has killed another animal.".
i brought the very confused Buddy inside, and went out to remove the 'dead' possum, and, it was gone. Amazing. It reeeeeeally looked 'dead'.

Tx, if you have any helpful tips on how to call off a dog who is chasing prey, feel free to post it! Or even where to start....like, get a 50 foot line, hook dog up, and hire some bunnies to run by or what?
hee hee, i just don't know where to start with the whole prey thing...at all. Not a clue.

I am going to have to start over from scratch. Mind you, Buddy's recall with NO prey in sight, is pretty much flawless, (so long as he is not doing his pre-pee sniff, i learned from you, Tx, to try to avoid calling Buddy when he is about to pee. I dont' even try to call him then, it might weaken the cue in his mind, so i wait til he is done, THEN i call him.)
I can even call him off heading towards enemy dogs now, too, dispite his obsession with dogs, i CAN call himback! whoooooooot!!

but, PREY, nope.
He's gone.....such a bummer, cuz NOW i can't really walk him off leash the way i always used to. Unless i want to spend about half an hour tracking him back down....sigh. (hangs head).