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As we know, dogs do what’s rewarding. That means you may have your bag of rewards, which likely include food, toys and play, with you in most training situations.

Rewards are important and should be used appropriately and frequently to help dogs build value for working with you.

Make a list of your dogs 5 favourite reinforcers and rank them in order from highest value to lowest:

For example:

  1. steak
  2. cheese
  3. liver
  4. tug toy
  5. tennis ball

Use the highest value rewards when working with the toughest distractions.

But what about situations where you cannot include tangible rewards such as food and toys, but you may still want to reward your dog! That is when having a history of genuine praise and celebration will help!

Using genuine praise with a dog you have a strong relationship with can be very reinforcing for both dog and handler. Be warned: dogs are very smart and know when you are being sincere. That means they will know if you are “faking it” or having a bad day. This means that training when you aren’t in a good mood is counterproductive. If you aren’t feeling it, take your dog for a walk, enjoy the scenery and let them be a dog!

Celebration can include praise, touching and even play. Every dog is different, even within the same breeds. Some dogs will like rough, loud playing. Others will only enjoy celebration if it is more subtle and doesn’t include big and boisterous play. Figure out what your dog likes and use it to celebrate successes. The nice thing with celebration is that it is a portable reward that you can take anywhere including a competition ring. If your rewards can go with you to these places, and you’ve built value for them, you can reward your dog immediately for whatever successes you get! You may not be able to bring your dog’s Frisbee or a hunk of liver into a competition ring, but no one will bat an eye if you celebrate with your dog at the end of a great run.

Other situations, where you haven’t planned ahead and don’t have rewards on hand will present themselves in your dog’s lifetime. Having celebration to present to your dog when he comes away from chasing a squirrel or ignores a huge distraction on a walk will serve you well for still getting to reward your dog.

A random reward schedule, including your dogs favourite toys, food and celebration can greatly contribute to a well rounded training and competition partner. Work celebration into your reward schedule and you’ll have another great tool for use in your dog training fun!

Hi! I'm Shannon Viljasoo and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members.