I find that one of the hardest concepts for students to grasp is actually one of the simplest. Isnt that often the way?
The concept is the one of rewards. When we talk of rewards and what they are for your dog most dog owners have two responses, toys &/or treats.
Yes toys and treats can be rewarding to your dog but there are 2 major issues to this which I will cover briefly below:
It is not just toys and treats that are rewarding
Every time your dog feels a sense of enjoyment it is due to a reward of some sort, sometimes things we would rather it didnt find so enjoying such as shredding your daily post delivery or chasing birds in the garden but like it or not to your dog these are rewarding.
All of those rewards can be used by you to gain your dogs focus and attention and build on your training together. I am not saying hand over your daily post or encourage the bird chasing what I am saying look at whats behind it and how you could use it and look at everything your dog does and what it enjoys then use it.
For instance, one day trying to walk my entire male and in season bitch one evening (road walking on leads and not at the height of her season). The walk was fine (my boy copes really well with seasons) until I was stopped by a passing friend and being stationary and bored my boys focus shifted to my girl and he was understandibly all over the place as he just wanted to sniff her, then a light bulb moment for me! I asked him to sit nicely and when he did I let him forward for a very short sniff (my girl really doesnt mind and is very relaxed with him). I worked on this just briefly during my conversation until just before we parted ways he was sitting beautifully and watching me intently to be released for another quick sniff.
Now Im not saying you should go out and do the same by any means as handling in season bitches and dogs in season should be done very carefully both to prevent accidents but also tensions as hormones run high but I am trying to show that you can work with the every day things that your dog finds rewarding and use them to your benefit.
Not all toys and not all treats are equal
To truly get the best from positive training you need to look at toys and treats in more detail. For example my dogs love Kong squeaker balls, they do not like tennis balls so to say my dogs find balls rewarding is incorrect. My dogs prefer some tug toys to others so again to say my dog simply finds tug rewarding is incorrect.
I ask my students to think carefully and rate the toys and treats they use. Then I ask them to save the high value items and treats for the harder tasks for example if recalls are not so reliable, when their dog comes to them on command then I ask them to hand out things such as fresh chicken or sausages (many of them find this their most rewarding/motivating reward but remember not all dogs will so discover what your dogs favourites are). Rewarding with high value items or food will make it more likely that the behaviour is repeated.
I also encourage high value things not to be wasted by using them for things the dogs find highly rewarding anyway, such as perhaps send aways or retrieves etc but to use lower value rewards for things they know their dogs finds easy and enjoyable.
To positive train to the best effect there are many things to bear in mind, a good positive trainer can help you unlock both you and your dogs potential and take enjoyment to the max!