When using a reward based training system, it is important to understand what works as a reward for your dog. Every dog is different and it is your responsibility to figure out what things motivate your dog. At the same time, it should not be something so wonderful that your dog becomes overly excited and stops listening. So, how do you figure out what your dog likes?
1) Know your dog's body language.
Remember, you are trying to reward your dog. Make sure your dog's body language reflects enjoyment! I frequently see handlers being very energetic with their praise even when it is freaking their dog out because they don't like to be handled that way. If your dog is not enjoying what you are doing, it is not working as a reward and instead of encouraging a behavior, you will be causing your dog to avoid doing the very thing you are trying to train.
2) Be creative!
Sure, food is frequently a reward for dogs -- especially high value treats. But what if your dog is not food motivated (believe me, it happens) or you just don't want to use food as a reward? What do you do then? I like to do something with my dogs that they like. Scratching that special place is a good fall back but it is important to mix things up. Many dogs love to sniff. Believe it or not, this can be used as a reward. Ask your dog to walk with you ignoring all the distractions and then give them a sniff break! Play fetch, hide and seek, a special voice that tells them that they did something correctly. There are as many rewards as there are ideas, just make sure your dogs enjoy what you use.
3) Make a list.
I like to write things down. If there are several people in your home, make a list and keep it on the fridge so everyone knows the ways your dog likes to be rewarded. You will be surprised how many items you can come up with. Make it a contest!
4) Know when to take a break.
Remember, your dog has to stay calm in order to follow your cues. Over excitement works against you. Things like fetch or tug-o-war may not be the best choices if your dog looses its mind during these games. My boy can get so excited when playing fetch that he starts jumping on me and trying to grab the object instead of waiting for me the throw it. So I have to be very careful and give him breaks when he starts to get excited.
5) Remember it is not about you!
The reward is for your dog, not you. Don't do something because it makes you feel good unless it also makes your dog happy. If you want your dog to do something for them, you have to make it worth their while. Just because you like something doesn't mean your dog does!