When it comes to training, we must communicate to our pets what they are doing correctly. Whatever is reinforced is repeated. When we communicate to our pet that they have done something correct, we use a reward marker; this can be a click from a clicker, a tongue click, a word, or anything that lets the pet know in a short instance what was correct. This is followed by reinforcement, but what is reinforcing to our pets?
Our pets are all individuals and what works for one may not work for another. Many pets find food reinforcing; some will even work for their regular food, such as canned food in a squeeze bottle. However, there are some pets that don’t find food rewarding, which is something we can usually change but isn’t always necessary. Some dogs enjoy play rewards; for instance, after sitting properly, a toy/play driven dog may love to tug or fetch a toy. Others do thrive on praise and belly rubs; ask my 120-pound St. Bernard client who insists on a belly rub at least once during a session.
Life rewards are also reinforcing. Dogs enjoy sniffing, and many dogs will find being released to sniff rewarding. For example, if a dog is pulling on their leash, asking them to return to your side and walk with a loose leash can be rewarded with a sniff break. A dog may sit patiently to greet a visitor and find just meeting their new friend rewarding.
There are a lot of different ways to reinforce a pet, but it is always up to the pet to determine what is reinforcing. By taking the time to learn what your pet finds rewarding and using those to your advantage, you can vary the types of reinforcement you use and make training more fun and engaging for you and your pet.
If you’re looking for ways to reinforce your pet(s) or need help with training, feel free to reach out.