Smart use of rewards will help train any pet, or human

Cheri Spaulding

Do you like to be rewarded? We all like rewards! We get rewarded for our work week with a paycheck. Have you seen videos of dolphins offering their flippers for medical procedures?

Animals in captivity are often trained by using rewards. It makes sense our dogs and cats like rewards too. Rewards come in the name of attention, food, toys, games, and walks. Rewards are limited only by our imagination and being aware of what our pets express joy over.

Dogs go to the place they are most rewarded. I trained Geo to go to his bed while I sat in my recliner and watched TV. It was so simple, I held back a portion of his evening kibble and tossed one piece at a time onto his bed. I tossed one onto his bed to get him on it, and then I tossed one off of his bed to get him off. He went back to the bed to see if more kibble appeared. I tossed one when he showed interest in the bed. The next evening, Geo looked at his bed and I started tossing kibble on it. When he showed a great deal of interest in the bed, I tossed kibble one at a time onto the bed every 1-2 seconds. Pretty soon, Geo laid down on the bed waiting for the kibble to arrive. He was glued to his bed. That was 3 years ago. Often when Geo’s looking for attention, he will go to his bed and lay down, looking adorable and hopeful, maybe offering a low “woof.” 

I give him my attention as a reward for being so polite. My attention might include taking Geo out for a short game of fetch if he hadn’t been out in a while. I like to get Geo out and active several times a day. A 10-minute game of Fetch strengthens our relationship by doing something fun together and gives him exercise. This doesn’t require a huge chunk of time.

Currently, I am training Geo to offer his paws to let me clip his nails. You have heard of Pavlov’s dog? I am using classical conditioning to change Geo’s emotional response to his nails being clipped. 

When he sees the clippers come out, he associates yummy treats. It’s been slow going but every time he lets me clip a nail, he gets a lick of peanut butter. Peanut butter is definitely higher up on the reward list for Geo than his kibble so he only gets the peanut butter when we are working on nail-clipping.

After Geo is fully comfortable with having his nails clipped, I will move on to training him to be comfortable with having the dremel tool to grind his nails. I would prefer using the dremel only for his nails because there is better control of length and minimal chance of cutting into the quick of his black nails. Right now the noise and vibration of the dremel terrifies Geo.

I use liverwurst, cut in tiny pea-sized bits, for this training. Liverwurst is higher in reward value.

I suggest my students bring to class a variety of three of the highest value treats for their dog. The environment of a training class is tougher for dogs to concentrate.

There are other dogs, distracting smells, and they are being asked to learn new behaviors. Unless there are allergies or health issues, I suggest tiny bits of hot dog, string cheese, or roasted chicken. I’ve had a canine student whose favorite reward in the world is watermelon. Maybe a bit messy but it worked for them during class.

Whatever you use to reward your dog, make it something they like. If you’re in a training session, it needs to be small enough that the dog nearly inhales it and keeps going.

Reward-based training can be used on any species. The trick for the human is to know the basic behaviors and reward value of the species.

I trained chickens to do tricks by using chicken feed in a measuring cup. I trained a goat not to head-butt me when I went to leave his pen with peanuts. I have trained a few cats. If you have a cat, you can train him to do tricks with the right reward and placement of the reward. 

By using rewards correctly, there is no limit to training.

You can reach Cheri Spaulding at Rock Nest Training & Pet Care, LCC 541-895-3162 or



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