Positive Reinforcement Training Tips to Properly Reward Your Dog

Rewarding your dog may seem like a simple task on the surface, right? But properly rewarding your dog is more than just giving them the food and hoping for the best.  Problems come up when our signals are confusing and the dog can’t interpret them. That’s why we’re big fans of consistency and simplicity in training, both in commands and rewards.

Dogs and puppies love being rewarded, and rewards are a great way to reinforce a behavior. The categories of rewards we use in dog and puppy training are:

  • Verbal praise
  • Affection
  • Food or Objects

Rewarding Your Dog or Puppy in Training

Here are our tips for rewarding your dog or puppy during training to help you train your pet and build a strong relationship with them.

Verbal Praise

This type of reward has a couple of things going for it.  First, it’s always available. No need to remember the bag of treats. Second, it’s immediate. You can praise your dog right away, so it reinforces the behavior you want

We recommend combining your chosen reward word (like “Good!) with the word you use for the behavior (like “sit”, “down”,  or “stay”). So your phrase is “Good sit” or “Good stay”. This lets the dog know they’ve pleased you, and the behavior you asked for is reinforced. 

There’s no need to go overboard in your praise. That can actually confuse your dog. Keep it simple and consistent.


Again. Keeping it simple here works best. One pat or stroke of the head (together with simple verbal praise) will do the trick. 

Food or Objects

Dogs are usually very motivated by food so it’s an effective training reward. But be careful about what you give as a food reward. Most commercial, packaged dog treats are very high in calories. They’re okay as once-in-a-while treats but may make your dog overweight if you use them regularly in training.

We recommend using training treats that are small and made from a single ingredient like beef liver or chicken. Another idea is to use whatever you feed your dog for kibble. Just pull out a portion of their daily ration to use for training.  Doing this means you won’t overfeed your dog or upset their stomach with new food.

Whatever food reward you use, give it immediately after the dog exhibits the behavior you asked for, and be consistent about rewarding. It’s probably important to point out there’s a difference between bribing a dog and rewarding them. If you pull out the treat before you ask for and get a behavior, the dog’s focus is on the treat rather than on you and the command.  You may wind up with an animal that only does the required behavior if a treat is offered first.

Now. About objects. Dogs love to play as well as eat, so a ball or tug can be an effective reward. If your dog responds appropriately to your command, toss their favorite ball or play tug with them. This kind of play has the added bonus of building your relationship with your dog. 

If play is an effective reward for your puppy or dog, invest in professional-grade balls and tugs. Most consumer-grade toys will fall apart quickly.

More Positive Reinforcement Training Tips

puppy eating

For dog owners who are just getting started with reinforcement training, there’s a lot to learn. That’s why I created this blog post and video. If you have any questions, I recommend consulting a dog trainer in your area who knows how to reward dogs properly and can help you establish the basics.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more videos with America’s Canine Educator, Tom Davis. Or, schedule your own dog training session with me and my staff in Clifton Park, NY by completing our contact form or calling (518) 952-7873.