A guide to navigating the challenge and adventure of life with your dogs.

Join the crew

Sign up to get notified when there's new stuff. You'll also receive occasional exclusive content that you won't find on the site. It's free.

Slot Machine Dog Training

“Argh!” groans the dog owner. “I don’t want to have to give Sparky a treat every single time he does something right. That seems really ineffective. He’s gonna get fat and I’m gonna go broke buying all these hot dogs.”

This dog owner is absolutely right. It is ineffective to treat your dog every time he does what you want. Not only is it unhealthy, but Sparky is liable to get bored quick.

When you are first training a new command, you will use a treat every time. But that’s just in the beginning. It’s like a soda machine. You put your money in, you get a soda. Every time. Its nice to get the soda, but there is no excitement in the whole process (unless you’re five years old, but I digress).

Eventually you will start rewarding Sparky only once in a while, and changing up the kind of reward you give him.You might give a treat one time, break out the tug toy the next, then scratch him behind the ears the next time. So when you’re working on “sits,” Sparky never knows which one of his sits will earn the prize or what kind of prize it will be (especially helpful when you’re out of the house and aren’t carrying treats). In dog training we call this a “variable schedule of reinforcement.” Humans have their own version of this.


They’re called slot machines.


People sit down and start feeding the machine their money. All in all, not much more exciting than feeding money into a soda machine. So what is it that makes people keep coming back, or even become addicted? It’s because every once in a while, they DO get rewarded. And, while the chances of it are slim, there is always the possibility of striking it rich. It really is the same principle that makes reward-based dog training so effective.

Check out these other posts:
Video series: How to Teach Your Dog Practically Anything
Video post: My Dog Won’t Work for Food!
14 Quick and Easy Ways to Keep Your Dog Occupied