Updated: Mar 8, 2022
When it comes to training dogs, the first word that jumps to most minds when we hear "reward" is "treat."
Consider thinking of a reward differently = a thing that reinforces behaviour.
I use the word thing because it's not always food and it's not always us that can increase the likelihood of a behaviour ocurring again in the future.
If you work, the thing is money - how many of you would keep turning up and working so hard if you didn't get paid? (voluntary work aside...but even then your reward is that nice feeling you get by helping) If you win you may get a trophy, a gold star or a certificate. If you smile at someone and they smile back, you feel good and you're more likely to smile at others again in the future.
Rewards could be food, and there are many good reasons for using tiny pieces of deliciousness however, think about what happens for the dog in these scenarios: If a dog is barking at the door and you go open it the reward for barking is the door opening and being able to run through it.
If your dog is on lead and you let them off to go play/run sniff - that could be way more rewarding than a piece of dried liver for example.
If a dog jumps on the bench and gets the steak you left out - you can bet they will be jumping on that bench again.
If a dog is scared and what they are scared of keeps coming at them, whatever it is that keeps them safe (running away, hiding, growling, lunging, rolling over) is what they will repeat again in future because it worked.
If a dog is pulling towards a super interesting smell and they get there, they are rewarded and more likely to pull in future because it worked.
Rewards are ANYTHING, specific to that individual dog at that specific moment and not necessarily what we think they should value.
When you're trying to figure out how to stop or change what's going on, step in to their shoes.