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By Sue, from "It's a Dog's Life" - Training YOU to train your dog!

Roddach Cottage West, Main Street, Cummingston, Burghead, Elgin IV30 5XY

Tel: 01343 831420 email:


Learning to Earn! Canine Rewards

Dogs are opportunists. It’s part of their basic survival kit, it’s how they’re “programmed”. It’s canine culture. What’s in it for him? What motivates him? For a dog to do something again it must be rewarding. So what represents “rewarding” in canine terms? LEADERSHIP!!

Food: He must eat to survive.

This comprises his daily ration and any other tasty treats (including anything you happen to leave lying around or any old chip bag chucked on the ground or the odd dead rabbit!). Remember he’s an opportunist (not a thief!) – survival’s the name of the game.


  • verbal praise – “good boy” – the words mean nothing in themselves, it’s the tone in which they’re delivered!

  • touch – petting, stroking (pack interaction). Where you stroke is important as fondling ears, stroking the chest and scratching the root of the tail can be sexually arousing to the dog. The best way of petting is to stroke down over the head, neck and shoulders, which says, in canine lingo, “you’re wonderful BUT I’m the boss”. Watch dogs and pups at play – a head leant over the head and neck of the other dog or a paw placed on the shoulder is an assertive gesture.

Play: He needs to be a pack member.

  • Family Gathering – Pack Interaction – Bonding.

  • Developing social skills is vital to ensure a socially well integrated, confident and mentally well-adjusted dog. A lack of proper socialisation with other dogs can result in gauche, clumsy and “over-the-top” social signals and land the dog in trouble.

  • Play with family members and visitors is vital to teach the dog “soft mouth”, to develop social acceptability on human terms and to prevent over-boisterous behaviour (back to our gauche, clumsy and “over-the-top” social signals!).

Freedom: To do what only a dog does best!

  • to run around, sniff and investigate.

  • to chase, let off steam, etc. – if he didn’t like chasing, he’d never survive in the wild – he’d starve! It’s called “prey drive”. This we can, and must, control and channel, very effectively to prevent inappropriate chase (bicycles, rabbits, cars, etc.) while still giving the dog outlet for his “prey drive”/chase instinct.

  • mark territory - leave his calling card. Both urine and faeces give information on the dog that deposited them – and the higher up the better to obtain maximum publicity and area coverage by scent. “I’m Rover from Bonio Lodge, Houndsville, tall, dark, hairy and handsome. I’m looking for a playmate – male or female – GSOH, NS, own transport to local beauty spots”.

We will make use of what your dog finds rewarding not only to train him but also to effectively present ourselves as his leader.

He must earn his rewards/wages. The wages/rewards comprise of not only the daily food ration but also the praise and affection we give him (pack interaction) and his freedom to play, sniff, run and explore.

What happens if we give him all these rewards on tap with no canine effort required? A human analogy might go like this…….Imagine your children came and asked you for £50. If you dished out the money each and every time, no questions asked, your children would not only learn that you’re “a soft touch” they would ask more and more frequently and would eventually turn into demanding, bad mannered, undisciplined monsters. So, if we are going to use titbits as payment/reward for our dog’s efforts, they must represent part of his daily ration/wages. Similarly he must do something to earn our praise and affection and his freedom. He must not expect it “on tap”.

Do, however, be aware that there are lots of things dogs find rewarding but of which we humans certainly would not approve, e.g. chasing rabbits, seeing off the Postman, rolling in cowpats, jumping the garden fence to explore the neighbourhood, chasing deer, cats, cars, bicycles, helping themselves to food off the kitchen worktop/table, etc. We must teach our house rules before they make up their own!


This article is also available for download in a printer friendly form in the Downloads section of this site.


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