As much as we'd love for you to use Kono's Kitchen treats in all your training, there are many different types of reinforcers you can use. In operant conditioning, a reinforcer is the stimulus that increases a behavior when added (positive reinforcement) or increases a behavior when taken away (negative reinforcement). To break it down:
Positive (add something) reinforcement (to increase behavior)
Negative (remove something) reinforcement (to increase behavior).
We'll expand on that in a future article—for now, let's talk about a few examples of reinforcement types.
1. Food—the ultimate reward
That is, the ultimate reward for many dogs, but not all. Some dogs aren't super food-motivated (in which case, feel free to move on to the next section!). For dogs who are more motivated by food, training can be done with their normal meals. If they're going to be eating anyway, why not use it as a training opportunity? Often, food can be helpful in teaching new behaviors, and slowly phased out or replaced with another reinforcer such as a tug toy.
It's always good to have some Kono's Salmon treats in your treat pouch for higher-value rewards, though—they're much easier to clean and just as motivating as chopped up hot dogs.
2. Praise / Affection
A scratch on the head and a "Good girl" may mean more than you think. For some dogs, this can be a powerful reward. Dogs are social creatures and value social connections, sometimes more than food. As with anything in dog training, this may depend on various factors. If it's a strange environment, your dog may seek affection from you but be too stressed out to take treats. If it's a different handler, your dog may be less likely to view praise or affection as a reward.
Pay attention to your own dog in different environments and whether or not affection increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring.
3. Toys / Play
The act of playing with your dog is what's actually reinforcing, not necessarily the toy itself. You could have a tug toy that sits on the ground, not moving, but start moving that toy away from your dog so they have to chase it and it becomes the ultimate reward. You could use a tug toy, a frisbee, balls, or no toy at all to play with your dog!
Play is a really great way to build a strong relationship with your dog. It's fun, it creates a lot of value around you, and it can increase trust as well. One of the most rewarding feelings is figuring out your dog's play style and what type of play they find the most reinforcing.
Not to mention, it's super convenient because all you really need to play with your dog is yourself!
Consider what your individual dog finds reinforcing at the moment
These are just a few example of reinforcement types. Freedom is another one, and there are many other things that can increase a specific behavior in your dog. Dog training is insanely nuanced. There is no template or step-by-step process you can follow that will work for all dogs. Want to know what the best reinforcer is? It depends on your dog. Your dog may do back flips for food while your sister's dog could care less. But show your sister's dog a tug toy and you've got his attention for hours. In addition, what your dog finds reinforcing right now may change six months from now. What's most important is that you learn YOUR dog and train the dog in front of you.
Basically, there are ever-changing variables and no concrete methods for you to follow. Hope this article was helpful! Joking aside, if you take a step back to really think about your own dog, notice when they get the most excited (and harness that excitement when teaching new behaviors!), and even test out different types of reinforcers, you'll find your relationship with them will grow stronger as you get to know them on a deeper level.
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