Pay The Dog: Why Giving Your Dog Rewards Will Lead to Better Behaviors

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Photo by Kevin Duggan | www.dogstokevin.com

There are two ways to get a dog to do what you want. You can teach your dog to do something and then give rewards for doing it, or you can hurt/scare your dog into doing what you want. Both ways create motivation for the dog, but according to science, one works better than the other. Can you guess which way works better?

If you guessed the former, you’d be correct. Paying your dog is what is known as Positive Reinforcement (R+) and it is the main reason why dogs continue to do behaviors that have produced beneficial outcomes in the past.

As you go through your normal day-to-day life with your dog, it is much easier to set them up to do what we want and reward them than to set them up to fail and to punish them. Here are some examples of what I mean:

    • Instead of having your dog stare at you from a couple inches away when you’re eating, practice putting him in a down/stay either on the floor, or on a mat and rewarding him for staying there.

    • Instead of waiting for your dog to pull on leash and trying to “correct” him, be proactive and ask him to look at you and walk near you while giving rewards.

    • Instead of letting your dog jump all over guests when they come in, teach him how to sit to receive the attention he is looking for.

  • Instead of trying to “correct” your dog when it starts barking at people or other dogs on the walk, focus on teaching him to look at you and rewarding him for doing so.

These are just a couple of examples. You’ll notice though when doing this that your dog will respond faster and faster to what you’re asking.

To pay a dog, you just need to find a currency that your dog is willing to work for. Most of the time, food is the easiest form of currency. Other forms though are toys, praise, affection, play, access to things like people or trees, and also going outside. In order to make these forms of currency something that your dog will be willing to work for, you have to make sure that the thing you choose isn’t readily available. So if you choose food, I’d recommend not always having a full bowl of dog food lying around the house.

When you first get into paying your dog in certain situations, you’ll be giving high payouts. As they get better in those situations, the payouts will happen less frequently. For example, when you first start teaching your dog to walk with you instead of pulling, you may be rewarding every couple of steps. But when done correctly, you’ll be able to ask for more and more steps in between rewards.

I am a big fan of using my dog’s kibble for training. This may not be an option for your dog if you’re just starting out, but once you get into the swing of things, you’ll be able to use your dog’s normal meals as rewards for training. This is what I call a win-win.

There is nothing wrong with using treats to train your dog. If you’re thinking it’s all just bribery, remember who is holding the treats. As the human, we have the capability to control everything that our dogs enjoy in life. All we have to do is ask them to do something before giving them that thing and that equals paying the dog.

Overall, dogs are always looking to do something that brings them enjoyment. All we have to do is be proactive, set them up to do what we want, give them good stuff for doing it, and the human and dog are both happy. Isn’t that what it’s all about, anyway?


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Positively Expert: Kevin Duggan

Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio , where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC.


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2 thoughts on “Pay The Dog: Why Giving Your Dog Rewards Will Lead to Better Behaviors

  1. Len

    When walking with my dog and seeing another dog he begins to jump straight up, bark and pull on the leash. How do I correct this behavior. He's a golden labrador.

  2. Maureen Vernon

    I would suggest keeping alert and when you see another dog in the distance put your dog in the sit, get him to look at you, and keep giving him small treats as the dog walks by (with lots of praise when he isn't barking). In this way he will learn that other dogs bring good things. So get in first BEFORE he starts jumping and barking.

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