Utilizing Strategic Reward Placement for Accurate Obedience and Rally Behaviors

July 6, 2024

Strategic reward placement in dog training can make a world of difference in the accuracy of your obedience and rally behaviors.  Imagine a typical training session with your dog. Your pup performs the desired behavior, and you promptly reward them. Job done, right? But is it really that simple? Is your reward placement and delivery helping or hindering your training efforts?


A Common Training Scenario: Reward Placement in Dog Training


Consider this scenario: You’re working on halts with your dog, and you hold the treats in your right hand to avoid your dog mugging your left hand for treats. When your dog halts and sits, you mark the behavior and transfer treats from your right hand to your left hand in front of your body before feeding them. You might even just feed the dog from your right hand.


A few weeks pass, and you notice a concerning pattern – your dog consistently sits with their rear end sticking out. What’s happening here? The issue arises because the treats have been consistently delivered from the front, causing your dog to anticipate the reward coming from that direction. As a result, the dog moves toward the reward, which often leads to the treat being delivered when the dog slightly wraps around you, causing the rear end to go wide. Unfortunately, rewarding this behavior becomes increasingly problematic over time.


Turning the Challenge into an Advantage


Dogs are incredibly efficient and quick learners. They tend to gravitate toward the source of the treat. In the case of our halt example, this tendency has caused the dog to sit with their rear end out of position.


However, we can turn this tendency to our advantage!


Let’s revisit the scenario of the dog sitting with their rear end out. By changing where the reward comes from, we can attempt to modify the dog’s behavior. Keep in mind that different dogs will react differently to changes in reward placement. In some cases, altering the placement of the reward may lead to unintended behaviors. Therefore, it’s crucial to video your dog’s actions to assess the effects accurately.


Using Reward Placement in Dog Training to Change Behavior


I once had two students in my class facing similar issues. In both cases, we decided to experiment with changing reward placement.


Case Study 1: The Bernese Mountain Dog


The first student had a delightful Bernese Mountain Dog that tended to heel wide, forge, and sit with its rear end out of position. To address these habits, we decided to modify reward placement. One effective strategy for dogs with these tendencies is to reward from behind – passing the treat from the right hand behind your back to the left hand and rewarding in heel position.


I first suggested this approach, thinking it might work. However, upon reviewing the following video, it was clear that it didn’t suit this dog. As the dog attempted to reach for the treat behind the handler, his rear end went wide and his heeling deteriorated. We had to abandon this strategy and find an alternative approach that worked effectively to improve the dog’s heeling.

Case Study 2: The Australian Shepherd

The second student in the class had an enthusiastic Australian shepherd named Tilly. Tilly had a tendency to forge and sit with her rear end out during heeling. Once again, we explored different reward placements to improve her heeling.


I’d like to share a couple of brief videos to illustrate how much of a difference reward placement can make. In the initial heeling video, Tilly exhibited a noticeable tendency to forge and halt crooked.



I explained to Tilly’s owner how impressed i was with her dog’s attention, and recommended that she reward Tilly by passing the treat behind her back from the right hand to the left hand and feeding Tilly in heel position.


After a few weeks of practice, here’s the final heeling video they posted.



The difference is remarkable, and the only change made was in reward placement. It’s astonishing how such a simple adjustment can yield significant improvements in behavior.


Reward placement can be applied to various obedience behaviors. I use separate reinforcement cues, or reward markers, to reward my dogs differently based on the behavior I’m working on and the dog’s tendencies. For example, in heeling, I may employ multiple reward strategies within the same training session.


Learn more about reinforcement cues in this blog: Just What Are Reinforcement Cues Anyway?


The Power of Strategic Reward Placement in Dog Training


In conclusion, the power of strategic reward placement in dog training cannot be underestimated. It’s a subtle yet incredibly effective tool for fine-tuning your dog’s obedience and rally behaviors. By recognizing how your reward delivery influences your dog’s actions, you can harness this knowledge to your advantage. Whether addressing forging, sitting with a crooked rear end, or other challenges, the simple act of adjusting where you deliver the reward can yield impressive results. As showcased in our case studies with a Bernese Mountain Dog and an enthusiastic Australian shepherd named Tilly, the difference in behavior is truly remarkable. So, the next time you’re working with your furry companion, consider the impact of reward placement and tailor your training approach accordingly. It’s a small change that can make a world of difference in your dog’s performance. Happy training!

Join Us to Learn Rally Foundations!

Welcome to the exciting world of Rally! This course covers essential skills for each Novice sign, including sits, downs, fronts, finishes, turns, and short heeling segments. We’ll teach you the mechanics, strategic reward placement, and how props enhance your dog’s understanding. Gain comprehensive knowledge to teach all the entry level rally signs without feeling overwhelmed. Whether pursuing TEAM Obedience, Rally programs, competition obedience, or strengthening your dog’s foundation, Rally is the perfect game for engagement and is particularly beneficial for those entering the competition ring for the first time.

Registration opens on July 22nd.  The 6-week class will start on August1st!



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