What Does Your Dog Find Reinforcing?

What does your dog find reinforcing?

By: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA, SBA

At New Dawn, we talk a lot about positive reinforcement (adding a pleasing consequence that will strengthen future behavior). We usually start with food, as that is a primary reinforcer.

The most important thing about what we use for reinforcement is that it has to be reinforcing for YOUR dog. There are times when we choose something we think will be reinforcing and our dog is not interested (or worse, it is aversive to your dog!).

For example, most dogs love peanut butter, right? When I offer my dogs peanut butter, they turn their noses up and walk away. I know that this treat is not reinforcing to them and would do nothing to strengthen a behavior I wanted to reward.

Another example I often see is petting. For some dogs, getting affection from their humans is a great reinforcer. However, for a lot of dogs, this is not that reinforcing (unless they seek out the affection on their own). For some dogs, this can actually be aversive. During recall practice, I see a lot of pet parents reach out to pet their dog when their dog comes to them. The dogs duck away to avoid the hands. This tells us that, in that moment, petting is actually punishing to the dog. Punishing means we decrease a behavior…and we don’t want to do that with recalls!

Reinforcement can be a lot of things to our dogs. Some examples are:

  • Playing with a toy
  • Sniffing something
  • Going outside
  • Going on a walk
  • Getting on the couch/bed
  • Greeting a person
  • Greeting a dog
  • Praise/Affection
  • Of course…FOOD

What does your dog find reinforcing? If you aren’t sure, play detective and watch what your dog really enjoys. As always, stay curious!