More Effective Dog Training: Choosing Reinforcers

fearful dogs reactive dogs Apr 18, 2022
Dog eating treat reinforcer

If you've tried using different reinforcers when training your dog, you might have noticed that some seem to work better than others. Whether you're using food or other training rewards, your choice of reinforcers can influence the success of your training session.


What Influences Reinforcer Effectiveness?

There are a number of aspects that effect reinforcer effectiveness:

  • Delay to reinforcement: In general, reinforcement delivered immediately after the target behavior is best.
  • Dog's preferences:  Use something the dog loves. A dog's preferences might change day-to-day and even within a single training session, so be ready to adjust!
  • Magnitude: Great reinforcer quantity or duration can increase effectiveness of your training.
  • Rate of reinforcement: Reinforce new skills every time in early training.
  • Has your dog had access to this reinforcer recently? Something your dog has had a lot of recently might temporarily lose its value as a reinforcer. This is why trainers will often ask you not to feed your dog for an hour or two prior to training class. 
  • Variety of reinforcers: Varying reinforcers during a training session can reduce the risk of the dog getting "tired" of a single reinforcer.  They can be mixed randomly or higher value reinforcers can be assigned to only the "best" behaviors.
  • History with the reinforcer: Is the reinforcer something that your dog often gets for free? If so, they might be less willing to work for access.
  • Delivery method: How you give the reinforcer to your dog can increase its value.  Chasing a rolled treat might be more fun than taking a treat from your hand; an interactive game with a toy might be a more effective reinforcer than handing the dog a toy. 
  •  Novelty: A new toy, treat, or activity can be a more effective reinforcer, at least temporarily, due to its novelty. 


Example: Varying Reinforcers in Scent Work

In this weeks' video, team dog Coco did her own kind of doggie Easter egg hunt, with different goodies hidden in the eggs.  She worked most quickly for high value treats, and a little more slowly for varied, mid-value treats. She was least enthusiastic when searching for kibble. Check out the video to see her search process!

If you'd like to learn more about Scent Work, join our self-paced Beginning Scent Work course! 




If you are trying out reinforcers with your fearful dog, we want to hear about your successes or struggles. Join our Facebook group and post your questions or comments there, or email us at [email protected]