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Donna Hill's

Service Dog Training Institute


Training Reinforcers

feed for position dog training

There are many options that can be used as reinforcers for teaching and training your service dog while he learns new behaviors and proofs and generalizes known ones. You will need to choose the ones that are best suited for your dog as a learner and the behaviors you are teaching.

  • Food
  • Toys
  • Social Interaction/Play
  • Things in the Environment (The things that distract dog can often be used as reinforcers.)
  • Learned Behaviors the dog loves to do

Four key principles will help you to improve your training process:  

1). It is important to match the reinforcer value to the difficulty of behavior and the distraction level of the environment. For example, while many dogs will work for kibble in the house, they won’t in the yard or in higher distraction locations. Have a selection of at least three values of foods in your treat pouch so you can match them on the spot.

2). Choosing the emotion of reinforcer can help with speed and success of learning the desired emotion associated with the behavior. For example, pairing a settle with a massage is a good choice as both promote calmness. For behaviors like a hearing alert that need a fast response, then using a toy might work better.

3). You may want to use different markers for the type of reinforcer so your dog isn’t disappointed with what he gets. This can be demotivating. For example, using a toy reinforcer when your dog is expecting food. Some examples of different markers might be “Yes” or a click for food. “Good” for a massage. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as your dog won’t hear it in every day contexts and you are consistent in using it only for that reinforcer.

4). You will need to spend time conditioning a variety of types of  reinforcers to be meaningful to your dog! This teaches him that he can work work for different kinds of reinforcers. This is useful for the training process. For some behaviors, you may want to start with teaching food so your dog is thoughtful, then change to toys so he can learn to do the behavior while aroused or while under a controllable level of stress, then switch to social interaction from you or others once he’s generalized the behavior. 

Watch for a follow-up blog post that will describe these in more detail and provide a list of examples of the different kinds of reinforcers.

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Special Considerations for Training a Diabetic Alert
(Alert 1.4)

Question: “I’m wanting to train my dog as a diabetic alert dog being that I’m insulin dependent. My question to you is what training tools do you use to teach the dog how to detect low blood sugar & high blood sugar (sensing)? I’ve asked numerous trainers on youtube this question, but no one has responded. My dog already does the targeting exercise with flying colors thanks to you and your video. Can you help me? TY :)”