How to Keep Dog Training Fun By Switching Up The Rewards
I learned about reward based dog training many years ago, but I certainly wasn’t a natural. I could teach my dog to sit by holding a piece of kibble over their head with the best of them, but I struggled with anything that went beyond the basics.
It wasn’t until 6 years ago when Laika entered my life that I finally started to understand more about motivation and focus, and how imperative they are to training. The rewards I’d been using weren’t very exciting for a dog with a ‘go go go’ attitude. Giving Laika a piece of kibble for learning a new trick is like paying a writer $15 for a 1000 word article; they’ll do it once and move on. The reward just isn’t worth the effort.
So I started to improvise by using different treats and games when training. I learned what rewards kept her motivated, and which ones made her yawn. She taught me how to keep dog training fun & interesting by switching up the rewards.
Switching Up The Rewards = More Focus
I used to be the world’s most predictable dog trainer. Every time I grabbed my clicker I’d head over to the cabinet for a few training treats. That worked well for my dog Carter who loved nothing more than food, but it didn’t work well for Laika. It didn’t take long for Laika to figure out the daily treat for a trick routine, and it certainly didn’t take long for her to lose interest.
The biggest improvement I’ve made with dog training is learning how to keep my dog’s interest to begin with. A gentle reminder that I am the bringer of all things fun, and that good things come to those who pay attention to me. And the easiest way I can do that is by switching things up when training.
Laika watches me like a hawk when I get out the clicker. She knows it’s go time. She has no idea what she’s going to be learning, but more importantly she has no idea what awesome thing I’m going to choose as a reward. Rather than heading over to the cabinet for a few treats I head over to the magical toy box. With more than 20 toys to choose from she has no idea what’s coming. Is it going to be tug today, or perhaps a bouncy ball? That spontaneity keeps her focused, and the promise of play will hold her attention more than any treat.
If your dog has a tendency to lose interest when you’re training try switching things up. The act of switching up the routine itself will peak your dog’s interest, and then you can start focusing on what rewards will hold it.
Switching Up The Rewards Keeps My Dog Motivated
When it comes to training Laika’s taught me a lot about motivation. I can get away with giving her a treat or verbal praise for doing easy stuff such as practicing tricks she already knows, but if I try that with a complex new trick she’ll lose interest. Treats don’t hold her interest like they did with Carter, and they’ve never been particularly motivating to her.
When we’re working on something new and I grab treats Laika will bring me a toy. She’s far more motivated by play than food (unless there’s meat involved). So when it comes to teaching her something new or particularity challenging I use one of her favorite toys as a reward. To her a quick game of tug or chasing bubbles is a hell of a lot more motivating than a silly treat.
Laika taught me that rewards have different values, and that the ones that I’d been using were pretty cheap. “You expect me to ‘come here’ rather than chase that squirrel for a pat on the head? No thanks, I’ll chase the squirrel and get my pats later.” She was right. The rewards I was using weren’t enticing at all.
I choose rewards based on Laika’s love for the reward itself and to match her current mood. If she hasn’t had her walk or exercise yet I know that a treat will be of no interest; she’ll be all about play. When you work with your dog you learn what motivates them; whether it’s a game or piece of cheese. And you can switch up those rewards to match the task at hand.
Switching Up The Rewards Makes Training Fun
One of the best benefits of switching things up is that it makes training fun. Because Laika is so play motivated it’s impossible not to have fun when training. Even if we don’t accomplish our original goal we still got a fun game of tug out of it. It’s hard to be discouraged when your dog is happily looking up at you, just waiting to find out what fun things are going to happen next.
Laika’s taught me a lot in the past 6 years, but perhaps the most important lesson she’s taught me is the importance of having fun. Training doesn’t have to feel like a chore, and it certainly shouldn’t be boring. By switching things up you can keep training fun and interesting for you and your dog alike.
Do You Switch Up Your Dog’s Rewards?
How do you keep training fun & interesting for your dog? Do you use different rewards when training? Is your dog more motivated more by food or play?
We are pleased to be joining the Positive Pet Training blog hop with Tenacious Little Terrier, Wag ‘N Woof Pets, and Travels with Barley. Please join us in this hop by posting your positive pet training stories. The hop remains open through Sunday. The theme this month is “Training Secrets”, however, you may share any positive pet training story, whether it’s on our theme or not!