Rewards and Reinforcers


REWARD – something given in return for a deed or service rendered (interaction or exchange)

REINFORCE – to give added strength or support to (independent association, no one needs to be involved in reinforcement)

PRIMARY (natural) REINFORCER – Food, shelter, water

SECONDARY (learned) REINFORCER – Clicker, good boy


How you deliver your treat is important, engage with your dog, focus on him, show your pleasure that he has done well, enjoy giving him the treat. The reward should be delivered within one or two seconds of the behaviour occurring so that the dog pairs the reward with the behaviour.

Dogs need to be relaxed to enjoy food, and may not eat when stressed. Teach your dog to take food gently from the hand – don’t let him have a treat if he snatches. Hold palm facing upwards, trap treat under thumb and offer to dog.


Any behaviour that reoccurs, gets stronger or happens more often is being reinforced in some way, but it might not be what we think is reinforcing. For example, why do dogs keep jumping up at people? What is the reinforcer? Why isn’t not jumping up being reinforced?

Example, what is a reinforcer to you? Chocolate, cake, wine? It is different for different people. And it will change from childhood to adulthood, and in relation to what you have eaten that day. You would get full of chocolate eventually! What was reinforcing can then become punishing if you carry on eating chocolate.


Training treats can be anything that your dog will work for. Be careful with dry treats or kibble which can make your dog very thirsty and swell up in stomach. High value treats which are soft and smelly and can be eaten quickly such as Cheese, Sausage, Ham, Pieces of chicken, or Baked liver are perfect.

Make sure if you do a lot of training to reduce your dogs meals in accordance with the amount of treats your dog has had through the day, and don’t use more treats than the size of your dogs skull (as that is how big his stomach is).