Rewards, Reinforcers, Treats . . . What is the difference?

Rewards, Reinforcers, Treats . . . What is the difference?


Rewards, Reinforcers, Treats

What is the difference & does it matter? 

Recinforce, Reward, Treat what does it all mean? 


If you are new to training or an old pro these words will be ones you have probably heard bandied about, but what do they mean and does it really matter?

They are all used when training animals. So we thought we would give you a quick rundown of what they mean and whether you feel at the end, it matters to you.

When you first begin to train your dog, and you find a fabulous trainer who uses Kind, Ethical and Science-Based methods you are probably jumping for joy in the sea of trainers who choose to use techniques to the contrary. However, within your first lesson, you are likely to be told to ‘reinforce’ your dog and then handed some pieces of food. Some dry, some moist and in our classes case even salmon paste filled toys. But is this reinforcing, is it bribing, it is rewarding undesired behaviour and if so what it is strengthening?

“A reinforcer is something that increases the likelihood that a specific behaviour or response will occur.”

Let’s break this down into the dictionary definitions.


a thing


in recognition of service, effort, or achievement.
give something to (someone) in recognition of their services, efforts, or achievements.


behave towards or deal with in a certain way.

give medical care or attention to; try to heal or cure.

an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.


an individual or thing that enforces
2. psychology
a stimulus, such as a reward, that increases the chance of producing a desired response by being applied after the desired response

Ok, so even within their definitions reward is used within the definition of the reinforcer, so where does this leave us.

When training using positive reinforcement it is classified under operant conditioning, there are 4 quadrants, and the best way to understand them is to see them as adding or subtracting to increase or decrease behaviour.

Positive Reinforcement

Adding something to increase the likelihood of the behaviour being repeated

When the dog comes back when recalled they are given a toy, playing a game or given food that THEY like. The dogs show they find it reinforcing by repeating the behaviour.



Negative Reinforcement

Taking something away to increase the likelihood of the desired behaviour being repeated

The dog is shocked/vibrations given and it is left on until the dog returns to the handler. Increasing the likelihood of the dog returning when called to avoid the shocks continuing. The negative reinforcer, in this case, the shocks, are taken away once the dog performs the behaviour wanted.


Positive Punishment

Adding something to decrease the likelihood of the unwanted behaviour being repeated

When the dog doesn’t come back when called shouting loud enough and aggressively enough to stop the dog in its tracks, sometimes the use of a bottle filled with stones is also used to make a very loud noise to shock a dog into stopping. Adding a punisher to scare the dog. Decreasing the likelihood of the dog ignoring the recall in order to avoid being shouted at or having a big noise go off again. Punishment stops the behaviour.


Negative Punishment

Taking something away to decrease the likelihood of the behaviour being repeated

When the dog doesn’t come back when called put it back on lead taking away its freedom. This decreases the likelihood that the dog will ignore the recall, in order to avoid being put on a lead. This relies on the dog understanding that ignoring the recall is the reason it is being put on lead and its valuable freedom is taken away.



 Many people choose to use positive reinforcement deliberately to train and maintain a specific behaviour. A dog trainer, for example, might reward a dog with a piece of food every time the animal shakes the trainer’s hand, however, you will only know the dog sees this as reinforcing if the behaviour is strengthened and offered more readily each time. What one learner (dog) finds rewarding may not be what another does. This is why it is so important to take the time to figure out what your dog loves, likes and tolerates. 

Different Types of Positive Reinforcers

Many different types of reinforcers can be used to increase behaviours, but it is important to note that the kind of reinforcer used depends on upon the individual and the situation. While gold stars and stickers might be beneficial reinforcement for a young child, they are not going to necessarily be as reinforcing on a secondary school or college pupil. This must be remembered when working with our individual dogs too. What one dog loves may not be what the other does too. Furthermore what your dog adores inside at home may have no value when outside too. 

Have some fun figuring out what your dog loves, if you aim to use it within training plan your training session with what you are going to train, why, how and which type of reinforcer, where will you place it to encourage repetition of the behaviour too. Do you give ‘treats’ after training sessions, things like toys or chews? Make your own mind up about what is reinforcing and what is rewarding and the language that you are happy to use but above all else if you aren’t having fun, stop, re-group and plan a different session making it easier for both of you to be successful. Sarah Fisher said to me last year ‘Less is more and a special dog doesn’t always mean easy.’ This has changed the way I work and I hope it helps you too. 

What is puppy ‘socialisation’?

What is puppy ‘socialisation’?

What is and isn’t socialisation?

What is Socialisation?

How to make the right choices. .

What is Socialisation Really?

Let’s keep this concise, there are plenty of books, websites, blog posts etc. all on how to socialise your puppy and to drum it into new puppy guardians that they must complete an intense plan of exposing their puppy to everything they can think of within a finite period. If you don’t then you can be sure to be told further down the line, particularly when your puppy hits adolescence, that the reason they are now scared of certain dogs or people is that you didn’t expose them enough to these things early on. WOW! Talk about piling on the guilt.

So this is about helping new guardians understand these phrases and giving you more manageable goals for both yourselves and your puppy. Let’s be honest, it is exhausting bringing a puppy home, the build-up, the anticipation, the shopping (yes we all do it), then finally you bring this bundle of love home, and you are hit, and I mean HIT hard with guilt, worry, overthinking everything you are doing. You want to get this right, you may well have blamed yourself for a previous dog’s fear of something, lack of recall, pulling on the lead, cleaning itself in front of Grandma every time she visited. It could be any number of things, for first-time pup parents, it is often sheer panic that you won’t do the right thing by your puppy. This goes for newly re-homed dogs of any age, the guilt and worry seem universal for a particular type of person. 

What is this ‘socialisation’ that everyone with a dog seems to know about and tell you that you must do?

Socialisation is a term bandied about a lot in the dog world.

So here is the straightforward DICTIONARY DEFINITION of socialisation.

“The activity of mixing socially with others.”


“The process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.”

So when we look at this from a puppies point of view what does this mean. Simply that your puppy is leaving its litter and mother where it has been mixing socially with its genetic family members and the humans that care for the puppies mother. It will have learnt body language from its mother and litter mates and determined how to gain attention from the humans caring for it too. It may well have had visitors of differing ages and possibly dogs of different ages too if they lived in the same house and the mother dog. So from 3-8 weeks old your puppy will have already started this mystical socialisation journey without you involved at all.

If this is done in a supportive manner, looking after each individual puppy’s needs, then they will be gaining confidence and growing their trust in humans who care for them. However, if they are inundated with handling, noises, smells etc. then it is also just as likely they can form some negative associations too.

You can’t predict this, you will go and see your puppy, choose the one you feel you like the most based on a relatively short space of time with them, or if you are lucky with the help and guidance of an experienced breeder. But you are still going to be bringing your puppy home to a new home, new smells, new noises.

Some incredible breeders make sure their puppies are set up for the changes, they ask about your lifestyle, whether it is noisy, quiet, whether your puppy will be your only dog and pet or with other animals too. All these things are part of its socialisation picture. I am not blaming breeders in the slightest but do want to help new puppy guardians understand that if their puppy is scared of things within this key developmental window known as the ‘critical period’ open until around 14 weeks old, they don’t need to feel it is their all fault.

There are so many factors that play a part in the sociability of a puppy that all you can actually do is be supportive, avoiding your puppy being overwhelmed by the extra human attention they will undoubtedly attract and ensure that they can always move away if they choose. Enrolling in a suitable Puppy Class in which puppies are taught to be calm around each other and social interactions are carefully monitored by a suitably qualified and experienced practitioner can be very helpful. Puppy parties, where it is essentially a ‘free-for-all’ with uninterrupted, high-arousal play should be avoided, your puppy will either feel overwhelmed and become scared or if your puppy is the confident boisterous one it is very likely they will learn that play like this is ok and sadly learn a very different lesson when in local parks with less tolerant well-socialised dogs, who won’t tolerate a pushy puppy. 

It’s also really important to teach your puppy that they cannot always greet every dog (or person) that they see. There will be times when it is not appropriate to allow your dog to approach others (for example if the other dog is on a lead due to age, injury or fear) so it is essential that they learn to accept this. Try to strike a balance between teaching your puppy to stay focused on you (instead of allowing them to greet) and allowing suitable interactions. If their expectations are not managed from an early age, this can lead to behaviour issues in the future, due to frustration.

The Bucket Game

The Bucket Game

Vet care & Grooming

The Bucket Game

The Game of Choice 

The Bucket Game – The Game of Choice


This game is easy to introduce to any animal and is designed to empower the learners, enabling them to give consent and active participation in their handling, grooming and vet care. By creating an environment where our animals have a choice and can communicate their desire to participate.

The bucket game was designed and brought to the world by Chirag Patel – a training and behaviour expert from Domesticated Manners.

The Bucket Game gives animals the ability to tell us:

  • When they are ready to start
  • When they need to take a break
  • When they want to stop
  • When we need to slow down

The bucket game can be used in many instances, not only for husbandry training and caregiving behaviours but also as a confidence builder, phobia reducer and for fun.

This game uses shaping, targeting, stationing and many other behavioural principles in a way that makes it fun for both the animal and the caregiver.

What you will need:
A bucket (size appropriate for your learner)
Rewards (high-value food or toys)
A bed/mat or safe place
Access to water

Step 1: Teaching manners & impulse control around the bucket (put your reinforcement in the bucket)

Start by holding the bucket out to the side.

Take a piece of food from the Bucket, marking with ‘yes’ for looking at the bucket but maintaining some distance from it (20-50cm).

You can then put the bucket on the ground/chair and reward the animal for looking at it but not jumping in it.

It doesn’t matter what position your animal is in (sit/down/stand).  What you are rewarding for is engagement with the bucket.

Start reinforcing when the animal maintains eye contact with the bucket for longer durations.  Don’t increase your criteria too soon or quickly as this may cause your learner confusion.

The animal is allowed to look around between focusing on the bucket – remember this is a game of choice and a conversation between you and them.  No need to call, shake the bucket, tug on lead.  Let your animal decide to engage in participating in the training program.

Allowing access to a bed/mat and water – will give your animal confidence that they can take a break as needed.


Step 2: Choose what you want to train the animal to do – for this example – A dog having his ears cleaned…



I’m going to wait until he can focus on the bucket (remember it doesn’t matter what position the dog is in – it could be a sit/down/stand).

When he is focused on the bucket and able to hold his focus of a few seconds, I’m going to start moving my hand to his side (not touching him).

At this point, he can choose to continue to look at the bucket – and if he does, he will be rewarded.  If he looks at my hand, he has communicated that he was uncomfortable, and I will stop – remember this is the game of choice.

When he re-engages with the bucket, the game begins again.  This time, don’t move the hand so fast or far.  If he can maintain focus on the bucket – he is rewarded.

The use of the Bucket Game continues building the ability to help the dog consent to have his ear cleaned.


The game of choice will only work if you allow the animal to communicate that they wish to begin, break and stop the game. If the animal looks away from the bucket, the game breaks/stops.  When they re-engage with the bucket, the game continues.

Here is another video showing The Bucket Game being used to introduce Teeth Brushing 


Domesticated Manners.
Patel, C. (2015). The Bucket Game. [online] Available at:

Renting with pets

Renting with pets

Renting with pets

For every person living in rented accommodation with pets, the day your tenancy is up is a day of dread, having to start the search again for a place who will also accept your fury family member. This pdf is a fantastic guide to help make renting with pets easier. Click on the image below to open the document.

How to pick the right dog walker?

How to pick the right dog walker?

How to pick the right dog walker?

In 2018 it is estimated that 12million (45% of) households have pets.  The pet population stands at around 51 million. With dogs making up 9million of them that’s 26% of all households (according to in other words 1 in every four homes have a dog making caring for dog big business.

Choosing the right person to look after your dog, when you can’t, is essential. This person will have a significant influence on your dog, their behaviour and welfare, so here are some questions and top tips to ask any potential dog walker.

1. Who actually will be walking my dog?


If the person you initially meet won’t be personally walking your dog, make sure you meet the person who will, before hiring them.

2. Does your company have multiple employees?

If they do will you meet them all, make sure your dog will be walked by one regular person so they can bond rather than lots of different people.

3. What kind of experience do you have with dogs?

Looking after other people’s dogs of all ages and breeds is essential, as is having a current certificate in canine first aid (they last for three years only) and having a good understanding of general dog body language and communication especially if they will be walking more than one dog. Check these certificates and qualifications, make sure they are recent.

4. How many dogs do you walk at once?

Most insurers cover for up to 6 dogs, and lots of councils now impose a four dog maximum law per handler. Yes, dogs are social animals however it does not follow that all dogs like all other dogs or that dogs are automatically at ease with each other as soon as they meet. Due to their nature dogs are social creatures, and they can learn just as many bad habits from each other as good. If the walker also runs a daycare double check that they hold the right type of licence with the local council. 

New licensing regulations, known as the Animal Activities Licensing Regulations 2018 (AAL), came into force on 1st October 2018. You can read the full legislation here: new regulation only applies to England

The regulations cover boarding kennels, boarding catteries, dog home boarding, dog day care (and pet sales, breeding and exhibits).

Dogs Die In Hot Cars

5. What happens to my dog while you are collecting or dropping off another?

Are any dogs tied up outside, with no one to watch over them, while they pick up another dog? Will they be taking dogs into one another’s homes? That is a situation with a high likelihood of conflict. Are they leaving them in a vehicle outside? This can lead to the potential for theft, especially in branded vehicles. It may as well say “dogs inside take your pick”, the vehicle should be temperature controlled, which should run separately to the engine or your dog is at a severe risk overheating in the summer, it only takes 10 minutes to cook a dog in a car on a hot day.  Another critical situation which occurs frequently is leaving them in one space unsupervised, such as the boot of a car or van, this can lead to severe fights.  Tragically one of my friend’s dog was horrifically killed in the back of a dog walkers van when left with only two other dogs which he had been on walks with previously without any signs of problems. Quite frankly do not let them take that sort of risk with your dog, insist that if they are transporting them that all dogs are in their own space whether separated by barriers or crates and if on the seat they should be in a harness on a seatbelt their safety should be the priority.

6. Will you be taking my dog to the park?

You have every right to say where you would and would not like your dog walked; you are the customer. Once you get up to more significant numbers of dogs walked together it gets tricky to give each dog attention. What I hate even more than I hate seeing one person walking six dogs is that one person is taking those six dogs to the park and letting them all off the lead. No human has enough eyeballs or enough legs to supervise that many animals especially in a public park where any number of people or other dogs could join that mix. If one dog gets injured and needs carried to safety how can they handle the other five dogs? One or maybe at a push two dogs on a lead and one in their arms is almost possible for a short distance, but any more is impossible.

7. How do you choose which dogs walk with each other?

No matter how many years experience they have, they should NEVER introduce a new dog to another without both dogs having their own handler to make sure the interaction is safe and beneficial for both dogs. Just because the dogs are the same breed or age does not mean they will get on or even should be mixing with each other, choosing dogs to pair together should be based on their individual temperament and what would suit them. Two dogs who get over excited in the park will not be a good pairing as they may find it hard to hear a recall etc.

8. Have you had the training to walk multiple dogs at a time?

Dog walkers can contact local trainers and behaviourists to get advice and training; this is highly recommended when walking more than one dog from different households, to make sure they can tell if it will be beneficial for both dogs reading dog body language effectively and reacting appropriately.

9. What happens when you can’t make it, or I need to cancel?


What back up is there if they get sick or can’t make it, how much notice will be given and how much help will they give to find an alternative. Your dog walker should have public liability insurance, key cover, references, a service contract, written policies and prices all available for you to see on your first meeting.

10 Can we go for a walk together?

Every dog walker should encourage you to walk together to see how they handle your dog, who your dog will interact with especially if there are any other dogs or people and see how your dog gets on with the walker in general. Your dog should be comfortable with them very quickly and even if your dog is usually shy your dog walker should be able to show you how they will work with your dog.  The walker will be on their best behaviour, but what one person considers their best practice can be very telling. The walker whose idea of showing off their skills is marching your dog, with plenty of yanks and sharp “commands,” is not someone I’d recommend. The walker who engages with your dog, lets them enjoy sniffing and encourages desirable behaviour rather than coercing it is a walker who should be hired.


Tip #1: A Dog Walker Isn’t a Trainer – Unless they are a Trainer

image1There are lots of dog walkers who are fantastic at their job and have been doing it for years. However, they are not trainers. A good trainer is someone who actively keeps up to date with current research on positive methods of dog training and behaviour. Using research and evidence to support their practices, having completed some specific courses, gaining qualifications and being members of associations such as the APDT, Pet Professional Guild or IMDT. If your walker makes recommendations on behaviour and training, ask what their exact qualifications and experience are and ask for evidence that the suggestions they are making will help your individual dog. Even a qualified dog trainer who’s hired to walk your dog shouldn’t be conducting behaviour modification on their own initiative whether it is different to the trainer’s advice you have already sought or something they tell you they are doing without a full consultation.

Tip #2: Be Honest

Be brutally honest; if your dog has medical or behavioural issues, you need to know if the walker has the skills to work with your dog and they need to be able to make an informed decision. A good dog walker will know their limits. It’s ok for them to tell you they aren’t skilled enough to work with your dog. It’s the responsible thing to do. Don’t hide anything from them. A dog walker that’s any good will want to understand your dog’s needs better, what walking routes are safest and what your training plans are, etc. If they don’t ask about your individual dog’s needs, move on. They should be happy to continue any things you are practising with a trainer like loose lead walking or recalls.

Tip #3 Go with someone that does this for a living


Rather than someone who is doing it as a hobby or filling time like a student, retired person or a teenager who loves dogs, especially when lots of insurance companies don’t pay out for injuries caused in the sole care of a minor, anyone under 18 should be accompanied by an adult.  It’s a huge commitment to show up at someone’s home every single day for months and years. You need someone who is motivated to be reliable, caring and professional, in it for the long haul, not a temporary measure.

Tip #4 Communication

Writing a note takes a minute or two away from your dog and helps keep you up to date on your dogs’health, experiences and are a great way to identify if issues are arising. Many dog walkers love writing little reports either leaving a small journal or dropping a text, now with social media lots use facebook or twitter to communicate updates too. If they don’t leave notes, ask them how you’ll know they’ve been there each day and if there are any incidents with people or dogs.

NB: If your dog walker doesn’t fulfil all of these areas, be clear on the areas which are non negociable for you (leaving dogs in hot cars for example without cool mats or water, or travelling unrestrained in crates which is against the law) and areas you feel the Walker has done the best they can (their vehichle isn’t air conditioned when the engine is off but they do a lot for the care of your dogs when pickign up others). 

Originally written 15th November 2015 updated 3rd January 2019