Reward Delivery for Rewarding Results

It can be very effective to train your dog using treats or toys, but only if you use them correctly.  If you deliver them without care, use them as bribes, or inadvertently reward the opposite of what you really want, you likely won’t get the results you were hoping for. A few tips can help you get the most out of your reward-based dog training sessions.

Reward delivery is the focus of this blog entry. Before you begin a training session, plan how you are going to deliver rewards. Think about what position you want the dog’s body to tend toward, and maximize reward delivery to that end. This will greatly increase your dog’s understanding and speed progress. Here are a few examples:

Coming when called

A dog who comes when called, but who doesn’t come close enough for you to touch, may be impossible to catch when it really counts. To teach your dog to come in all the way, always deliver the treats or toy very close to your body. It may help to anchor your hands on your knees or thighs so you won’t be tempted to reach out toward the dog, thereby inadvertently rewarding him at arm’s length.

While you are at it, occasionally grasp your dog’s collar while you are rewarding him with the other hand; that way he’ll feel quite happy to be grabbed by the collar.

With a little dog, you can add some excitement by occasionally tossing the reward between your legs and out behind you. This way he gets accustomed to flying right up to you, never knowing when you might let him chase down the treat. Little dogs are sometime uncomfortable getting right up close to us, so this delivery will reward them for zooming right in. Just be sure you play this game only some of the time, rewarding close to your body most of the time. (See more Coming When Called tips.)

Leash manners

Notice when your dog is walking right by your side, because that body position in relation to yours is what you should reward. Deliver the treat by reaching it down along the side of your leg, parallel to the seam of your pants, then place the treat on the ground near the heel of your shoe. This treat delivery method results in the dog sticking by your side and prevents him cutting in front of you, zig zagging back and forth, lagging behind or forging out ahead. When you reinforce the behavior of walking by your side, it will increase in frequency, duration and intensity.

This reward delivery also sets the dog up for a successful repeat performance; while he is nibbling the treat off the ground, you can move off, so that he has to catch up to you. When he reaches your side, presto, he is in position for another reward. This enables you to rehearse success over and over.

Placing the treat on the ground also decreases the likelihood of your dog jumping up at you while you walk, since when your dog is eating the treat he’s being rewarded for having all four feet on the ground.

As soon as your dog reliably positions himself along side you as you walk, increase and randomize the number of steps you take before rewarding.  Blend in real-life rewards for walking beside you, like a chance to sniff a tree or play with another dog, and within weeks you will no longer need to use treats as rewards.

Holding still

How can you get your dog to stay put once you’ve gotten her to sit or lie down? Sometimes people attempt to reward a dog for staying by releasing the dog to them and then feeding the treat. But that’s likely not rewarding the stay position; it’s rewarding the movement toward you, and may well erode your stay training. The same applies to sit as well as to down, or any other stationary position. Deliver the treat in a way that encourages the dog to maintain position and rewards that position.

To reward a down, deliver the treat between the front paws, close to the dog’s chest and slightly tucking her chin. That will help her weight shift back into a nice solid down, elbows on the floor.

To reward sit, deliver the treat slightly above nose level to keep the dog’s weight back in her haunches.

Think about other stationary positions or movement you’d like to reward, and how treat delivery can aid you in your training.

“Don’t worry, he’s friendly!”

“Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” Perhaps you’ve heard that sentence before, or maybe you’ve even uttered those words yourself. They are usually called out by an owner whose dog is off-leash and approaching another dog or dog-person pair.

If you have ever said these words I will now let you in on a little (albeit tough love style) secret: It does not matter if you think your dog is friendly. It doesn’t even matter if he actually is friendly. What matters is that, at best, it is poor doggie etiquette to fail to gain immediate control over your dog (i.e. have him at your side, leashed) as soon as others come into view. At worst, you are making life more difficult for the other person. Many people are afraid of dogs, and, honestly, you are putting them in an awful position by allowing your dog to galavant around them, run towards them, or approach them in any way. If you encounter someone who is with a dog, you should know that, even if your dog is the sweetest dog on earth, and has never fought with another dog, and who in fact has had magical calming effects on every dog he has ever met, you are putting that person’s dog in a very difficult position. Many dogs have a very hard time with other dogs coming up to them, and it is unfair for you to make that dog feel that way, or to potentially sabotage the training the person has invested in getting their dog to be more comfortable with other dogs.

When you call out, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly,” you may be trying to reassure the other person. Your intentions are good, but the effect is the opposite. By calling out reassurances instead of calling and leashing your dog, whether you mean to or not, you are letting the other person know you a) don’t have control over your dog, which is usually a bit nerve-wracking for them; b) you are putting your convenience above how they feel or how their dog feels, which is not a nice thing to do to your fellow human beings or their pooches; and c)  somewhat paradoxically, they may automatically find your dog annoying, which will earn him a bad reputation, despite your belief that he is friendly and a nice dog.

The hard truth is that it doesn’t matter whether or not your dog is friendly. It is simply rude (and likely illegal given leash laws) to fail to gain immediate control over your pooch when you see other passersby. You may be scaring someone and you may be upsetting their dog. Fortunately, there is an easy solution to this problem. If you allow your dog to run off-leash, teach him to come instantly to you, even in the face of distractions. That will immediately put others at ease, show off what great training and control you have, and give the impression that you and your dog are both good community members. There are many effective strategies for improving your dog’s leash manners, too, so that you won’t hesitate to walk him on leash when needed.

With so many people enjoying their dogs on hiking trails, in town, at dog parks, and on suburban walking paths, it is time we all polished up our doggie etiquette. If you don’t know how to train your dog to pass other dogs politely, or how to get him to stay with you when other people pass, do not despair. There is a wonderful new book that will teach you what to do, step-by -step. It is called Out and About with Your Dog: Dog to Dog Interactions On the Street, On the Trails and at the Dog Park by Sue Sternberg. It will teach you how to pass others on a trail, how to recognize doggie communication and play styles, how to recognize dog park habits that we humans have that are helpful (and some that are not), and, I am not making this up, how to teach your dog to ignore other dogs (and how to know whether that is what your dog needs). You’ll also find a cool quiz so you can assess your dog’s behavior, and beautiful color photos throughout.

Here are other ideas for getting your dog ready to hike off leash. Soon when we dog owners pass each other, we will be calling out to each other, “What a wonderful dog you have there!”

Mother’s Day Special

You mother taught you to share, didn’t she? And she liked good behavior, right? Well here is your chance to make your mother proud by sharing with homeless dogs and teaching your dog good behavior. Receive 25% off your dog training appointment fee at Top Notch Dog in the month of May murphywhen you donate a minimum of $25 in cash or needed supplies to Saving Grace. I’d be glad to help you with leash manners, coming when called, helping your kids teach tricks, and even how to get your dog to say, “Mother may I?” instead of jumping up.


To find out more go to Top Notch Dog and enjoy your dog more, starting today! 

Pictured is Murphy Brown, the pride and joy of Lauren Collins. I teamed up with Lauren to help her train Murphy shortly after she adopted him from Saving Grace. Thanks to her efforts and to Saving Grace, he has had the chance to blossom into a wonderful companion.