Reward-Based Training: Treats Vs. Praise Vs. Toys

In the world of dog training, the use of rewards is key to fostering positive behaviors. But which rewards are the most effective? In this article, we will explore the age-old debate of treats versus praise versus toys when it comes to reward-based training. Whether you are a new puppy owner or a seasoned trainer, understanding the benefits of each type of reward can help you build a stronger bond with your furry friend and achieve the desired results in your training sessions. So grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and let’s dig into the wonderful world of reward-based training!

Table of Contents

Benefits of Reward-Based Training

Positive reinforcement

Reward-based training, also known as positive reinforcement training, focuses on rewarding desired behaviors rather than punishing unwanted ones. By using positive reinforcement, you are providing your dog with a clear indication of what you want them to do. This approach creates a positive learning experience, making it more enjoyable and effective for your dog.

Creates strong motivation

Reward-based training taps into your dog’s natural instincts and desires, utilizing rewards as a powerful motivator. Whether it’s treats, praise, or toys, these rewards act as incentives to encourage your dog to perform the desired behavior. The strong motivation created by rewards helps accelerate the learning process and makes training more successful.

Builds a strong bond

When you train your dog using reward-based methods, you are fostering a strong bond between the two of you. By focusing on positive reinforcement, you are creating a positive association with training and strengthening the trust and relationship you have with your dog. This bond not only enhances the training experience but also carries over to other areas of your dog’s life, promoting a harmonious and loving relationship.

Creates a positive association

Reward-based training helps create a positive association between your dog and the desired behaviors you are teaching them. Using treats, praise, or toys as rewards reinforces the idea that engaging in these behaviors leads to positive outcomes. This positive association makes your dog more likely to repeat the desired behaviors in the future, contributing to their overall obedience and well-being.

Encourages problem-solving

Reward-based training encourages your dog to think and problem-solve. By using rewards to reinforce desired behaviors, you are teaching your dog to figure out what they need to do in order to receive those rewards. This stimulates their cognitive abilities and encourages them to actively participate in the training process. As a result, your dog becomes more mentally engaged and motivated to learn.

Increases engagement

One of the key advantages of reward-based training is its ability to increase your dog’s engagement in the training process. When your dog knows that rewards are involved, they become eager to participate and pay attention to your instructions. This high level of engagement leads to quicker and more effective learning, as your dog is fully invested in the training sessions.

Treats in Reward-Based Training

Effectiveness of treats

Treats are a popular and effective reward in reward-based training. Dogs are naturally food-motivated, making treats a powerful tool for reinforcing desired behaviors. They serve as a tangible and immediate reward that clearly communicates to your dog that they have done something right. Treats can be used in a variety of training scenarios and are especially useful when teaching new commands or behavior modifications.

Choosing the right treats

When using treats for reward-based training, it’s important to choose treats that are appealing and enticing to your dog. Different dogs have different preferences, so it may take some trial and error to find which treats your dog finds most motivating. Consider using soft and small treats that can be easily consumed during training sessions. Additionally, opt for treats that are healthy and nutritious to maintain your dog’s overall well-being.

Using treats as rewards

Treats should be used strategically as rewards to reinforce desired behaviors. By delivering a treat immediately after your dog performs the desired behavior, you are helping them make the connection between the behavior and the reward. Use treats as a positive reinforcement tool to communicate to your dog that they have done something correctly. Gradually, you can reduce the number of treats given over time as your dog becomes more proficient in the desired behavior.

Avoiding over-reliance on treats

While treats are highly effective in reward-based training, it’s important to avoid over-reliance on them. Using treats too frequently or in excessive amounts can lead to dependency on treats for obedience. You want your dog to obey your commands because they want to please you, not just for the treats. To avoid over-reliance on treats, gradually phase them out as your dog becomes more proficient in the desired behaviors.

Gradual fading of treats

To prevent treat dependency, it’s important to gradually fade out the use of treats as rewards. Once your dog consistently performs the desired behaviors, start reducing the frequency of treating. Instead, use treats intermittently or randomly to keep your dog engaged and motivated. This gradual fading helps solidify the behavior without solely relying on treats, encouraging your dog to respond to other forms of rewards as well.

Using treats for shaping behaviors

Treats can play a vital role in shaping new behaviors in your dog. They can be used to break down complex behaviors into smaller, manageable steps. By rewarding and reinforcing each incremental progress, you can gradually shape the desired behavior. Treats act as a guide for your dog, helping them understand what you expect from them and encouraging them to reach the ultimate behavior goal.

Praise in Reward-Based Training

Importance of praise

Praise is a crucial element of reward-based training. It serves as a non-tangible reward that reinforces positive behaviors in your dog. Praise helps create a positive emotional response and reinforces the idea that your dog is doing something right. By offering verbal or physical praise, such as a cheerful tone or pat on the back, you are effectively motivating your dog to continue performing desired behaviors.

Reward-Based Training

Different types of praises

Praises can be expressed in various ways to cater to your dog’s preferences. Verbal praises, such as using a positive tone of voice, telling your dog “good job” or “well done,” acts as a simple yet effective way to communicate your satisfaction. Physical praises, such as gentle pats, belly rubs, or a quick game of fetch, can also be powerful rewards that strengthen the bond between you and your dog.

Timing and tone of praise

The timing and tone of your praise are crucial for its effectiveness in reward-based training. Praise should be given immediately after your dog performs the desired behavior, ensuring they make the connection between the behavior and the reward. By offering praise in a positive and enthusiastic tone, you are communicating to your dog that they have accomplished something significant and deserving of recognition.

Using praise for reinforcement

Praise can be used as a reinforcement tool to motivate your dog to continue exhibiting the desired behaviors. By offering sincere and consistent praise, your dog learns that their actions lead to positive outcomes and pleases you. This positive reinforcement encourages your dog to strive for more successful repetitions and strengthens the desired behaviors.

Combining praise with other rewards

Praise works synergistically with other rewards, such as treats and toys, to enhance the effectiveness of reward-based training. By combining praise with tangible rewards, you create a well-rounded training experience for your dog. The combination of verbal or physical praise with treats or toys reinforces the desired behaviors and increases your dog’s motivation during training sessions.

Effective use of verbal praise

Verbal praise can be a versatile tool in reward-based training. By varying the tone and intensity of your voice, you can indicate different levels of satisfaction and encouragement. Brief, high-pitched praise may signal immediate delight, while calm and soothing praise can convey a sense of contentment. Pay attention to your dog’s response to different types of verbal praise and tailor your approach to their individual preferences.

Toys in Reward-Based Training

Benefits of using toys as rewards

Toys can be an excellent alternative to treats or praise in reward-based training. They offer a unique set of benefits and engage your dog both mentally and physically. Using toys as rewards allows your dog to unleash their natural instincts, such as chasing, fetching, or chewing, while reinforcing desired behaviors. Toys can be particularly effective for high-energy dogs who find playtime highly rewarding.

Types of toys for training

When using toys as rewards, it’s essential to choose toys that are appropriate for training purposes. Interactive toys, such as puzzle toys or treat-dispensing toys, can be used to engage your dog’s problem-solving skills while rewarding their effort with a fun challenge. For obedience training, toys that are easy to hold and manipulate, such as tug toys or balls, can be effective incentives.

Using toys for motivation

Toys can be used to motivate your dog during training sessions. By presenting a toy as a reward, you tap into their natural desire to play and interact. Show enthusiasm and excitement when introducing the toy, making it clear that it is a reward for their good behavior. Toys can be especially motivating for dogs who have a strong prey drive or a high play motivation.

Teaching toy-driven behaviors

Reward-based training allows you to teach your dog specific toy-driven behaviors. For example, you can train your dog to fetch a ball, release a toy on command, or search and retrieve hidden toys. By using toys as rewards, you can shape and reinforce these behaviors, turning playtime into a productive and enjoyable training session.

Avoiding destructive behaviors

Using toys as rewards also helps redirect your dog’s natural tendencies to chew or engage in destructive behaviors. By offering appropriate chew toys or interactive toys during training, you provide a constructive outlet for their energy and prevent them from damaging furniture or personal belongings. This redirection helps reinforce positive behaviors and keeps your dog mentally stimulated.

Using toys for mental stimulation

Toys not only reward your dog for good behavior but also provide mental stimulation. Puzzle toys or interactive toys that require problem-solving can engage your dog’s cognitive abilities and prevent boredom. Incorporating such toys into your training sessions keeps your dog mentally sharp and satisfied. Mental stimulation is an important aspect of a well-balanced and happy dog.

Choosing the Right Reward for Your Dog

Understanding your dog’s preferences

When selecting rewards for your dog, it is essential to understand their preferences. Every dog has unique likes and dislikes. Some dogs may be highly food-motivated and prefer treats, while others may be more motivated by toys or praise. Observe your dog’s reactions and behavior to determine what type of reward excites them the most. By catering to their preferences, you can achieve optimal results in reward-based training.

Considering your dog’s age and breed

Your dog’s age and breed can also influence the type of rewards they prefer. Puppies and young dogs may be more motivated by treats, as they are still exploring the world and developing their taste preferences. On the other hand, certain breeds with strong prey drive or high play motivation may respond better to toy rewards. Consider your dog’s age and breed characteristics when choosing the right reward for them.

Combining different rewards

In many cases, combining different rewards can be the most effective approach. Using a combination of treats, praise, and toys provides variety and keeps your dog engaged and motivated. By offering different rewards for different behaviors or during different training sessions, you create a dynamic and exciting training experience for your dog.

Tailoring rewards to specific behaviors

Different behaviors may require different types of rewards. For example, complex behaviors or challenging tasks may warrant a higher-value reward, such as a special treat or a favorite toy. Simple behaviors or well-established commands may only require verbal praise or a low-value treat. Tailor your rewards to match the significance and difficulty of the behavior, ensuring that your dog is appropriately motivated.

Avoiding excessive rewards

While rewards are essential in reward-based training, it’s important to avoid excessive or unnecessary rewards. Over-rewarding can dilute the effectiveness of the rewards and may lead to unwanted behaviors, such as begging or demanding rewards. Use rewards strategically and in moderation, so your dog remains focused on the desired behaviors rather than solely on the rewards.

Customizing rewards for individual dogs

Each dog is unique, and what motivates one dog may not motivate another. Customizing rewards based on your individual dog’s personality, preferences, and training needs can significantly enhance the effectiveness of reward-based training. Pay close attention to how your dog responds to different rewards and make adjustments accordingly. By tailoring the rewards to your dog, you can ensure the best possible training outcomes.

Balancing Different Types of Rewards

Determining the right balance

In reward-based training, finding the right balance between treats, praise, and toys is crucial. Balancing the use of different rewards ensures that your dog remains engaged, motivated, and focused. Experiment with different combinations and observe how your dog responds to find the optimal balance for their training needs.

Using a hierarchy of rewards

Establishing a hierarchy of rewards can be helpful in maintaining the right balance. Consider which rewards your dog finds most motivating and assign them different levels of value. Higher-value rewards, such as favorite treats or interactive toys, can be used for more challenging behaviors, while lower-value rewards, such as verbal praise or less enticing treats, can be used for simpler behaviors. This hierarchy helps ensure that your dog is appropriately motivated for each behavior.

Personalizing training techniques

Each dog has different training needs and preferences, and what works for one may not work for another. It’s important to personalize training techniques and rewards based on your dog’s individual characteristics. Some dogs may respond better to a combination of treats and praise, while others may prefer toys as their primary reward. Pay attention to your dog’s responses and adapt your approach accordingly.

Adapting to individual dog’s needs

Flexibility is key in balancing different types of rewards in reward-based training. Some dogs may have individual sensitivities or allergies that limit their options for treats. In such cases, focusing more on praise and toys can be a suitable alternative. Be open to adapting the rewards to accommodate your dog’s needs and preferences. This flexibility ensures that your dog remains motivated and engaged throughout the training process.

Keeping the dog motivated

Maintaining your dog’s motivation is crucial in reward-based training. As your dog progresses in their training, it’s important to continue adjusting and evolving the rewards to keep them interested. Introducing new treats, toys, or types of praise can reignite their enthusiasm and prevent training from becoming monotonous. Keeping your dog’s motivation high ensures that they continue to enjoy and excel in their training.

Avoiding satiation

Satiation can occur when your dog becomes desensitized to a particular reward. If you consistently use the same reward without any variety or moderation, your dog may lose interest or motivation. To avoid satiation, rotate different treats, toys, or types of praise to keep your dog engaged and excited. This approach ensures that the rewards maintain their effectiveness and prevent your dog from becoming indifferent or complacent.

Common Challenges in Reward-Based Training

Dealing with treat dependency

One common challenge in reward-based training is the potential for treat dependency. If your dog becomes too reliant on treats, they may only respond to commands when treats are present. To address treat dependency, gradually fade out the use of treats as rewards and incorporate other forms of rewards, such as praise or playtime. By weaning your dog off treats, you encourage them to respond to different types of rewards and reinforce their overall obedience.

Addressing distractions

Distractions can pose challenges during reward-based training. When your dog is presented with external stimuli, such as other animals or loud noises, they may become less responsive to rewards. To address distractions, start training in low-distraction environments and gradually increase the level of difficulty. Use higher-value rewards or reinforce their focus with verbal praise and gentle touches. Over time, your dog will learn to maintain their focus even in the presence of distractions.

Maintaining consistency

Consistency is crucial in reward-based training. Your dog relies on consistency to understand and respond to your commands effectively. Inconsistency in rewards or expectations can lead to confusion and hinder the progress of training. Ensure that everyone involved in your dog’s training understands the rewards and expectations and follows them consistently. Clear and consistent communication helps your dog understand what is expected of them and reinforces the desired behaviors.

Troubleshooting rewards that lose effectiveness

Sometimes, rewards that were initially effective may lose their effectiveness over time. This can happen if your dog becomes habituated to a particular reward or if the reward no longer holds the same value for them. If you encounter this challenge, it’s important to explore new rewards and find alternatives that excite and motivate your dog. Additionally, make sure that the timing and delivery of rewards are appropriate to maximize their impact.

Overcoming training plateaus

Training plateaus can be frustrating for both you and your dog. It’s common for progress to slow down or seemingly halt during certain stages of training. To overcome training plateaus, it’s important to introduce new challenges, change training techniques, or incorporate different rewards. Keep the training sessions engaging and varied to stimulate your dog mentally and keep them motivated. Persistence and patience are key in pushing through training plateaus.

Managing frustration and lack of progress

Reward-based training can sometimes be challenging, and it’s natural to feel frustrated when progress is slow or when your dog doesn’t seem to grasp a particular behavior. It’s important to manage your frustration and approach training with a positive mindset. Dogs are sensitive to human emotions, and your frustration can inadvertently affect their motivation and progress. Seek guidance from professional trainers, take breaks when needed, and celebrate even small victories to stay motivated and positive.

Combining Rewards for Optimal Results

Mixing treats, praise, and toys

Combining different types of rewards can enhance the effectiveness of reward-based training. By mixing treats, praise, and toys, you offer your dog a variety of incentives that cater to their preferences and keep them engaged. For example, start a training session with treats, follow up with praise during the behavior, and end with a play session using their favorite toy. This combination creates a well-rounded training experience and reinforces the desired behaviors.

Using a jackpot reward system

A jackpot reward system involves surprising your dog with an exceptionally high-value reward for exceptional behavior. Instead of the usual reward, provide an extra special treat, an extended play session, or abundant praise. This jackpot reward acts as a powerful reinforcer for outstanding performance and motivates your dog to continue excelling. Use the jackpot reward system sparingly to maintain its effectiveness.

Establishing a hierarchy of rewards

Creating a hierarchy of rewards based on their value and significance can help optimize reward-based training. Certain behaviors may warrant higher-value rewards, while simpler behaviors may require lower-value rewards. By establishing a hierarchy, you can ensure that your dog remains motivated and engaged based on the context and difficulty of each behavior. This hierarchical approach keeps your dog focused and encourages consistent progress.

Matching rewards to the task difficulty

Matching rewards to the difficulty of a task is crucial in keeping your dog motivated and challenged. For more challenging behaviors or tasks that require increased effort, use high-value rewards to create a stronger reinforcement. As your dog becomes proficient in the behavior, gradually decrease the value of the rewards to maintain progress. Matching rewards to the task difficulty ensures optimal motivation and consistent improvement.

Adopting a flexible approach

Reward-based training requires flexibility and adaptability. Dogs are individuals with unique personalities and training needs. Some behaviors may require more frequent reinforcement, while others may show progress with intermittent rewards. Be open to adjusting your approach based on your dog’s responses and progress. Experiment with different rewards, techniques, and frequencies to find what works best for your dog.

Experimenting with different combinations

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different combinations of rewards to find the most effective approach for your dog. Some dogs may respond exceptionally well to praise combined with treats, while others may thrive with a mix of toys and praise. Keep track of your dog’s responses and adjust the combinations accordingly. The more you understand your dog’s preferences and motivations, the more successful your reward-based training sessions will be.

Transitioning from External Rewards to Internal Rewards

Shaping intrinsic motivation

Reward-based training aims to shape your dog’s intrinsic motivation by gradually replacing external rewards with internal ones. As your dog becomes proficient in the desired behaviors, you can begin fading out the use of external rewards, such as treats or toys, and transition to relying on their intrinsic motivation to obey your commands. The goal is for your dog to want to perform the behavior because it is inherently rewarding for them.

Replacing rewards with life rewards

Life rewards refer to everyday activities or privileges that your dog finds rewarding. These rewards can include access to the outdoors, opportunities to socialize with other dogs, or playtime with their favorite human or canine companions. By using life rewards in conjunction with training, you encourage your dog to perform desired behaviors to gain access to these valuable experiences. Gradually, they learn that the desired behaviors lead to the rewards they enjoy in their daily lives.

Fading external rewards gradually

To transition from external rewards to internal rewards, it’s important to fade out the use of external rewards gradually. Begin by reducing the frequency and value of the treats, praise, or toys used as rewards. Instead, focus on reinforcing the behavior with life rewards or opportunities for your dog to engage in activities they love. Over time, your dog will associate the desired behaviors with the intrinsic rewards they bring, resulting in lasting behavior change.

Promoting self-reinforcement

As your dog gains proficiency in the desired behaviors, self-reinforcement becomes an important component of reward-based training. Self-reinforcement occurs when your dog finds fulfilling satisfaction in performing the behavior itself. For example, a dog who has been trained to walk calmly on a leash may find self-reinforcement in the joy of exploring their surroundings or the pride of a job well done. Promoting self-reinforcement ensures that behavior change becomes a long-term habit.

Building drive and desire

Reward-based training focuses on building a strong drive and desire for the desired behaviors in your dog. By using rewards strategically, you tap into your dog’s natural instincts and desires. As your dog experiences the positive outcomes of performing the desired behaviors, their drive and desire to repeat those behaviors increase. This drive and desire contribute to consistent and lasting behavior change.

Creating lasting behavior change

The ultimate goal of reward-based training is to create lasting behavior change in your dog. By shifting their focus from external rewards to internal motivation and self-reinforcement, you create a foundation for long-term obedience and well-being. Consistency and patience are key during this transition, as it may take time for your dog to fully internalize the desired behaviors. With dedicated practice and reinforcement, reward-based training can lead to lasting and positive behavior change.


Reward-based training, whether using treats, praise, or toys, offers numerous benefits for both you and your dog. By utilizing positive reinforcement, you build a strong bond with your canine companion and create a positive association with training. Treats, praise, and toys play essential roles in motivating your dog, engaging their problem-solving abilities, and reinforcing desired behaviors. By understanding your dog’s preferences, balancing different types of rewards, and transitioning to internal motivation, you can achieve long-lasting behavior change and a harmonious relationship with your furry friend. Embrace reward-based training, and enjoy the journey of training your dog with positivity and love.