How do I motivate and praise my dog?

A woman embracing her happy dog
Rachel Oates © / The Kennel Club

The key to successful training is finding things that your dog likes or enjoys doing, as these may be used both to motivate your dog, and to reward them for a job well done.

Many dogs become excited in the presence of food. Most dogs like to play. All dogs have a connection to us, their owners, and they quickly understand our moods based on our posture, facial expressions and tone of voice. And of course, most dogs like to be touched.

First, work out what type of food will make your dog the most excited, and then work out how it should be given. If you're using treats, please remember to take them out of your dog’s daily food rations, and grade them according to your dog’s stage of learning, and/or the environment.

Alternatively, experiment to discover which toy your dog likes to play with; which words, tone of voice and body language elicit a positive response from your dog. Work out where they like to be touched. These are all critical in being able to motivate your dog to do something, and then in rewarding them once its done. Be imaginative when you're training your dog – their biggest reward may be to perform tricks for you, to go swimming or out for a walk with you – these can also be used as rewards when feasible.

Steps to motivating and praising your dog

  • Start with the dog near to you and facing you. If your dog is inclined to wander off, you may consider using a lead for more control
  • Choose a quiet place in your home to help your dog to concentrate. Find out your dog’s favourite rewards as these will motivate them to do things for you
  • Dogs repeat behaviours that they find rewarding or that are followed by a reward. They will also start to find performing previously boring behaviours rewarding in their own right, if they are always followed by something the dog likes, or that the dog likes to do. So training a dog through reward based methods really has a knock-on effect
  • We need to be able to understand how to use our motivators and rewards to get the best out of our dogs, as well as grading our rewards and understanding when we may need to change them. A piece of dried kibble may be enough of a reward for a dog practicing a known behaviour in a familiar environment, but it may take something tastier to teach them a new behaviour, or to perform a known behaviour in a more distracting environment. A tasty sausage is unlikely to be good enough to get your dog back to you when they have just spotted a running squirrel – that may require a game of 'chase the toy' with you. It’s always worth teaching your dog to play retrieving and tugging games with a toy
  • If you find it difficult to get your dog to play with you, consider using a longer toy so you are not overshadowing the dog, and make the toy come alive
  • It's also important to teach the dog to give a toy up when asked, as this will carry over into everyday life. It's far easier to ask the dog to come to you to give up the remote control they’ve just pinched, rather than chasing them!

Please note: there are many different ways to train your dog. This is just one method of teaching. If you are ever in doubt, please seek professional advice. 

For more information and advice, you can find a puppy foundation course with The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme, browse our full list of The Kennel Club Accredited Instructors or find a dog training club near you.