The most common reward for a good dog has traditionally been food – a treat of some kind that is gobbled down and gone in an instant. While food rewards do have their place, non-food rewards are very important too and can make the difference between a healthy dog and one that can become overweight if he is a very good boy.
What is a Reward?
Anything your dog enjoys or likes can be a reward. From toys to belly rubs, visits to the dog park to cuddles with you in front of the TV – rewards come in many forms. As long as it’s enjoyable to your dog, it will be perceived as a reward.
It’s really important to give rewards at the correct time to positively reinforce the behaviour that earned it. Your dog needs to learn to associate the reward with certain behaviours – so the reward needs to be immediate.
Non-Food Reward Ideas:
- Verbal praise
- Positive body language from human
- Belly rubs, head pats, ear scratches, doggie massage, hugs, snuggles – if your dog enjoys these
- New toys – fetch toys, puzzle toys, squeaky toys, pretend kill toys
- Games with you – fetch, hide-and-seek, tug-of-war
- Treat treasure hunt
- Trip to the dog park
- Visit to doggie day care
- Playing under the sprinkler in summer
- “Walkies” in their favourite place
- Dog grooming session
- A bi, long-lasting bone to chew and bury for later
Benefits of Non-Food Rewards
Giving non-food rewards helps prevent over-feeding your dog. Over-feeding leads to weight gain and an array of other health issues. Non-food rewards will also be powerful training reinforcement for your dog and will help teach him self control and what your expectations are. Additionally, when each reward is different, dogs will expect the unexpected – they won’t know what type of reward is coming next. This is a great boredom-buster!
Food rewards are very powerful positive reinforcers – so don’t eliminate them completely. The trick is to balance food treats and rewards with non-edible rewards.
Whether your dog has behaved beautifully when attending for dog grooming, played nicely at dog day care, or just learned a new trick, rewards are the way to show your appreciation and reinforce the good behaviour. Just keep in mind that there are so many ways to reward your furry best friend that doesn’t involve food!