Why should you know what rewards are valuable to your pet?
Just as some foods and activities are more rewarding to you, they are to your pet as well. When training pets, it’s important to know what rewards are worth more to them, or are of higher value. This lets you use the appropriate reward at the appropriate time.
If you’re training your dog in your home where they’re used to being, you may not need rewards that are as high value. However, if you’re in a busy environment and there are a lot of distractions around, you'll need higher value.
High value vs low value rewards
In a lot of training you’ll hear about using low value versus high value rewards. If you’re doing activities like trying to get your pet to stay in one place, you don’t want to use something incredibly exciting to them as they may get up from their spot. If you’re doing something that is really difficult for them, you want to use something that is worth more to them for doing the proper thing.
What can be used as a reward for your pet?
If your pet is quite food motivated, you might be able to use their regular food for training. This is especially useful for puppies and kittens, you can use their meals for training. If your pet has food allergies and you have limited options for food rewards, you may also use their meal. Your pet’s regular food will likely not be exciting enough to motivate your pet to work where there are a lot of distractions.
Many pets will work for treats. There are many different types of treats available on the market, so finding ones that your pet likes best is essential for training. You’ll likely find that your pet is happy to take some treats in some circumstances and not others. This helps to give you an idea of how they rank how much they like those treats. For example, if there is a treat that they’ll take at home when it’s quiet, but won’t take when someone comes to the door, that treat probably isn’t as valuable to your dog as one they will take no matter what.
Playing with a toy is often very rewarding to your pet. For dogs, they may work to gain access to their favorite tennis ball or squeaky toy, or even to play tug with you or have a Frisbee thrown. A cat may work to have you play with a toy on a stick for them or to get a catnip toy.
Many pets will also work to get attention from you. With older pets, they’re often rewarded by being pet and told they’ve done a good job, especially once they’ve learned a behaviour and perform it consistently. However, you can also use attention for a reward with younger animals. You can even switch up the form of reward you use when training, sometimes giving treats and sometimes giving attention.
For a pet, a jackpot is similar to winning quite a bit when gambling. Your pet gets more of their reward for doing a really good job, or occasionally at then end of a training session when they’ve done well. You would drop a bunch of treats on the ground so your pet can go around and pick them up.
Rewarding your pet in different situations
Depending on the situation that you and your pet are in, rewards may become more or less valuable. For example, if your pet would usually take kibble to sit when training in your home. If out at the dog park that is unlikely to be a high enough incentive, your dog may sit but not take a treat. In general, your pet will take lower value rewards in situations that are calm and in a familiar environment. In exciting or stressful environments, your pet will need higher value rewards.
Before you go to train your pet or leave your home, make sure that you have the appropriate reward for your pet!
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