For a dog that is only beginning to learn and to be trained, rewards are provided at a very high frequency, that is, he receives a reward at almost every repetition of a good behavior. That is why you must always be prepared with treats or other rewards that the dog enjoys, not only during class, but also around the house, on your walks, or when taking your dog with you to malls, parks, etc. More importantly, you must practice handling and delivering rewards properly.

Preserve the flow of training

A few seconds wasted in fumbling about for treats or searching for a toy can cost you your dog’s attention, as well as cause the dog to miss the association between good behaviors and rewards. Here are some tips for how to preserve the flow of training, especially if you are in the middle of a training session with your pup:

Prepare treats ahead of time

Some important things to remember is that treats should offer no more than an explosion of taste, and should take no more than a few seconds to chew and swallow. If you are in the middle of a formal training session – practicing Sits, for example – you want to be able to proceed from one repetition of a behavior to the next in just a few seconds. For this reason also, don’t use treats that are sticky or that crumble as this may cause them to be difficult to handle and to drop out of your hand.

Keep your treats in proper containers at your reward stations or in treat pouches carried on your person. You should be able to quickly pull out treats without having to fumble about so that your dog does not get confused, bored or distracted in the time you waste trying to fish out his reward.

Deliver treats swiftly and properly

With your treat in hand, deliver it purposefully and swiftly to its intended target – your dog’s mouth. Do not stop midway between you and the dog so that the dog is made to reach or lunge for your treats: this is how finger-nipping dogs are created! If your dog can be assured that the treats he has earned will be delivered to him directly, he is less likely to lunge and grab the treats out of your hand, inadvertently nipping at your fingers in the process.

If you are asking your dog to hold a certain position (i.e. Sit, Down, Stand) deliver treats directly to him so he doesn’t commit errors or break position trying to reach for the treats.

Schedule of Rewards

High frequency of treats

You can expect that while you are teaching your dog you will be feeding him plenty of treats, and that you will be dishing out a treat for almost every good repetition of a behavior. Leave sealed treat containers in various places around the house, in the car, and take them with you on walks, and, of course, wherever else you go for your training sessions.

In the beginning, your reward rate will, in fact, be so high that it makes sense to do away with a food bowl and scheduled meals entirely as some trainers suggest. Behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin proposes what she calls a learn-to-earn program for dogs and new learners, wherein all food that the dog receives is worked for through learning and training.

Intermittent rewards

As the training skills and manners are mastered, the treats are decreased or given only for the best performances of a behavior, or for behavior chains wherein many behaviors are strung together. Treats can also be replaced with other rewards including favorite toys or activities. While treats are never completely removed as rewards, you can expect that with time and as your relationship with your dog strengthens you will be able to give them more intermittently rather than continuously. After all, it’s only right that your dog still gets paid for good behavior and excellent performance at least some of the time.

What about toy rewards?

Toy rewards are an excellent alternative for dogs that are more toy-driven than food-driven. Like treats, however, they must be made accessible immediately after the good behavior so that the dog associates these with the reward.

Hide high value toys

Toys that you use for games of tug and/or retrieving should be put away out of the dogs reach when not in use. Free access to these toys diminishes their value and over time they will become less useful as rewards. Furthermore, some of these toys can very easily be chewed up and destroyed by a dog. Some parts may be swallowed causing stomach upsets, and worse than that, they may cause gastrointestinal obstruction.

Reward, Do Not Bribe

With toys as with food, the tendency is often to use these as bribes and not as proper rewards. How can you distinguish one from the other?


You are bribing your dog if you are waving the toy or treat in front of his face in order to get him to perform a task. This is particularly obvious when we pull out toys or treats for our dogs to see, to make them look in our direction, to make them come back to us when we call them, or to make them give up something they have in their mouth. With bribing, the dog doesn’t really understand the task he is supposed to do, he is just mindlessly running after the toy or treat.

Bribes vs. Lures

There is a very fine line between bribing and luring. Luring is a tool we use in training to guide the dog into certain positions by letting him follow a food lure. We try to use food lures very sparingly, and fade them quickly after we have used them a few times to show the dog what we would like him to do. For instance, we might switch from using food lures to hand targets instead. If lures are not faded quickly they can easily turn into bribes such that you, the owner or handler, develops a dependency on them for the task or behavior to be performed.


Using food or toys as a reward is different in that these are given only upon completion of a task or behavior. In general, they are given after we have identified good behavior to the dog by speaking praise words or marker words, which will be discussed later. If the dog has already learned a behavior, and if you have correctly faded the use of any lures, then the dog should be motivated to perform a behavior to earn the reward even without the reward being immediately visible.