What reinfroces your dog?

In order for our dogs to learn, they must be given feedback–dogs learn that it’s not advisable to play with porcupines because the feedback they get is painful and is a punishment.  Dogs learn that barking and whining can get our attention because, well, we reinforce their barking and whining by GIVING them attention.  They base many of their choices of behavior on the history of feedback… “did something GOOD happen last time I did this?”  If we want a behavior to happen again we simply need to reinforce it–but how, you might ask.  The first step is to know what is rewarding to your dog.  I wish I could communicate just how frequently I hear “my dog isn’t food motivated” or “he loves when I pet him for a reward.”  The number of dogs who legitimately are not food motivated during classes are pretty few and far between and unfortunately the number of dogs who really enjoy that big hug and invasive petting as reward…. are also few and far between.

Susan Garrett made a suggestion at some point in some book or some webinar to make a list and rank each dogs reinforcers.  What does my dog LOVE all the time, LOVE sometimes, Like all the time, Like sometimes, and generally doesn’t like.  I have found myself referencing this list pretty regularly as reminders of just all the things I can use to reinforce desired behavior.  I can mix up my motivators and make sure I’m choosing appropriate reward levels.

So, let’s take a look at some of what is on Shayne’s list of reinforcers (within the category, the reinforcers are not necessarily ranked since many depend more on the situation)


Frisbee play

Hot dogs (made crunchy in a toaster oven)

Canned dog food in a food tube

Sliced ham


Tennis balls (playing fetch, not just the item)

Off-leash time

Go sniff


Sent out to chase something


String cheese

Peanut Butter


Large stuffing-less squeaker toys

Large jolly ball (or the tug jolly ball)

Leaping into my arms

Playing a crate game (being sent to the crate)

Barking at the mail carrier

Natural balance rolled food

Sniffing out critters in the brush

Yogurt kong

Continuation of work (next obstacle or next  behavior)

Play with Rio

Whipped cream

Swimming in natural body of water

Snuggling on the couch

Off-leash bike ride (well, me riding her running along)

She’s quite food motivated so most foods fit in this category

Opportunity to work

Released from work



Canine Massage


Playing with a flirtpole


Greeting friendly strangers

Trip to the pet store

Visiting my neighbor

Frozen kongs

Access to  the yard

Access to the kitchen

Access to the bed

Released from fenced front yard to hang out in the back

Being held like a baby in my arms

Selectively likes

Verbal Praise


Playing with other dogs

Kongs (unfilled)

Access to the porch

“Swimming” in the baby pool

Working with other handlers

Released to relax

So it’s not the full list but it was extensively thought about to figure out just what is reinforcing to my dog and how can I use that to my advantage in my day to day training.  There are many times, on a walk for instance, when I may want the dogs to get closer to me for a time (passing people or dogs on the path)– I mark the behavior I want, then reward them by being released to the end of the leash once I can.  I don’t need to reward with food or even have it on me to be able to reward the dogs.  I know they always like to have 6ft of leash so I absolutely use it to my advantage.

There are tons of things my dog finds reinforcing and the vast majority are things that I can control… this control puts me at the helm of being the coolest thing in the world to my dog and that gives me quite the advantage in everyday situations.

HAPPY WEEKEND!  (happy Canada day to my Canadian friends and Happy 4th of July to my U.S. friends–I will probably NOT be posting on Monday the 4th).


About Success Just Clicks

I'm a dog trainer and enthusiast who moonlights as a blogger and custom tug-toy maker.
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6 Responses to What reinfroces your dog?

  1. Just found your blog through some friends! Great stuff! I’ll keep an eye on it. =)

  2. Kristine says:

    I hope you are enjoying your holiday with some brilliant weather!

    I’ve tried to make up a list like this before but my dog is so food motivated that it’s hard to differentiate whether she likes cheese more or less than she likes tuna or kibble. She’ll devour it all just the same and will generally work for crumbs. Also some things are really reinforcing in certain environments, she adores tugging at home, but less rewarding elsewhere, anywhere outside the house she couldn’t care less about her favourite tug toys. So I often give up. But I agree that it is definitely important to know where your dog is receiving reinforcement. If they enjoy jumping up on people more than they enjoy the piece of kibble they get for sitting nicely, then obviously you need to up the ante!

    • I think it’s all dependent on the situation… in some instances food is the way to go w/ Shayne… but others not so much. GENERALLY speaking i pay as little as I can for behaviors.. if Shayne can work well for kibble… then that’s what i’ll use. BUT when working with behavioral issues, i want to use very high value foods that she only gets occasionally so find stinky smelly things (canned dog food) to use.

      i think one of the ways to figure out cheese v.s. hot dog v.s. kibble is using these in a variety of places…. if i’m in a high distraction environment she’ll ignore kibble, will eat cheese for a little while, but will consistently work for hotdogs so that helps me see her hierarchy (but it can change … sometimes she just doesn’t FEEL like eating hot dogs LOL).

  3. I totally agree – most dogs are food motivated – you just need to pick the right food. Dry dog biscuits don’t compare to cooked venison cubes.

    I also feel people often overlook opportunities to reward/reinforce their dogs. Your list is pretty full, I can’ think of much that you missed. Go sniff is a favorite one for my Lab (besides food, of course), where my mix – Leah – loves to chase her favorite ball, or be released into the yard so she can patrol for squirrels. Meadow actually appears to genuinely enjoy petting – but she loves a good treat more. Give her a garbage treat, however, and she’ll spit it out.

    • yep, gotta get creative sometimes… we have control of so many reinforcers that we fail to recognize and utilize…oh you wanna go outside…. sit. It’s good to just THINK about thing that our dogs like and how we can use that to our advantage!

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