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The Value of a Reward

Author: Paulette Solinski | Date: April 6, 2012

At AnimalSense, we talk a lot about rewards and their “value”.

Value in training depends on the dog and the circumstances.

For example, when I train my five-month-old puppy inside my house I use her kibble.  She loves her kibble but it’s something she gets three times a day so it’s nothing special.  However, when I leave the house, either to train outside or to go to a class, and we’re training the basic commands, I make the treats significantly more interesting to account for the additional distractions. I might use Stella and Chewy’s or some equally soft treat that is way better than anything she gets routinely.  And when we’re practicing really important skills– something that I want to work 100% of the time, like recall – I use people food like hot dogs or chicken. In other words, she gets food that’s more appealing depending on how hard and important the behavior I’m seeking is. The food has to make it worth her while.

Think of it like people and money.  I might be happy to be paid a small amount to water your garden but if you want me to landscape your entire yard, the pay has to increase exponentially.

For your average dog, it is pretty easy to figure out how to value food but other things can be valuable to your dog as well, things like their toys or even paper towels. My other dog, Sitka, will not touch food that’s on the table and doesn’t have a huge interest in toys or bones, but if I walk out of the room and I accidentally leave a napkin or paper towel around, it will be snatched up in a heartbeat. It’s a high value item for him where other dogs probably wouldn’t look at the paper towel twice. If you’re working on getting your dog to learn to drop something, you have to assess what the item is worth to your dog and use something better to reward your dog for dropping the item. If your dog favors certain toys, practice “Drop it” by replacing one favorite toy with another of higher value.

What’s your dog’s most coveted item? Share their valued possessions (or favorite foods) here.








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