Good things happen when your dog gives the correct response during training. He gets to have something, such as a food treat, or to do something he wants, such as play a game, go outside, sniff, dig, or meet other dogs or humans.
In the early stages of learning a new behaviour, when the dog gives the correct response, we will mark the behaviour by saying “Yes!” or with a click from a clicker, and giving the dog a tiny food reward.
When he has learned to perform the behaviour correctly many times, we put a cue on the behaviour just before the dog does it, mark the behaviour when he performs it and then reward him for having done it.
The cue is a label that describes a particular action—“sit” means folding his hind legs and putting his backside on the floor. When the dog has learned to perform the behaviour reliably, the food reward is gradually phased out.
The dog can be rewarded by things other than food. A quick game of tug, for example, is an effective reward for many dogs. Sitting calmly before an open door can be rewarded by going through the door to the outside. Sitting may also be rewarded by getting to meet another dog or a human being if those opportunities are things the dog desires.
The dog decides what will be the most rewarding thing, not the trainer! A dog who is not motivated to work for pieces of ordinary kibble may be highly motivated to work for bits of steak or cheese. That same dog may not be the least bit interested in food when he wants to go through the door for a walk or to romp in the garden. When the dog does what he’s asked to do, he gets to have the reward that matters most to him.