Rewards and Reinforcers - What are they?

By Leigh Laviolette // May 2017

At Dog School, we like to reward our dogs for good behaviour and the good choices that they may make. Everybody loves to know when they are getting things right!  Technically this is called reinforcement and simply put, means to make a behaviour stronger and more likely to happen again. Once your dog understands that doing a certain thing or performing a certain trick will get them a reward (reinforcer), they will actively choose to reoffer that behaviour which means you can then reward it again. By repeating this cycle lots of times, we can create strong behaviours within our dogs!

However, it is important to remember that what is rewarding to your dog is personal to them. For example, you may have had Labradors for all your adult life however they probably each had their own personal preferences (though if I know Labradors, I bet food was a common factor!). For some dogs, food just isn’t interesting but they absolutely love to play; either with their human or with toys. Take some time to find out what your dog loves and enjoys and use that to your advantage. Some good examples are chicken, cheese or your dog’s favourite toy.

For example, Jessie’s favourite toy is this tennis ball tug toy and her favourite game is to play tug! We can use that to our advantage and reward her for a good recall.


On a similar note, rewards do not always have to be delivered by us and sometimes an unwanted behaviour can be inadvertently reinforced. For example, if your dog pulls on the lead have a look at what might be reinforcing that behaviour; sometimes something as simple as a sniff in the grass can be the best thing in the world!

Dog’s tastes will change, just like humans do. Therefore, to keep your dog motivated and eager to learn vary your reinforcers; one day you might use cheese, another you might use a tennis ball (providing your dog enjoys both of those things). By providing a variety, we also enrich our dog’s life and keep it interesting for them!