Rewards without Treats

Non-treat Rewards

There are many non-treat rewards for GSDs but most dog owners don’t realise it. Anything that your GSD likes or enjoys can be used as a reward. GSDs love and enjoy many things from belly rubs to toys/games or even a nice walk. 

Non-treat rewards can be spending time with your GSD or simply by giving your GSD some of your undivided attention. Others non-treat rewards may take a little bit of forward planning or require a special trip, but your GSD will love just as much.

Once you understand the true concept of the reward, you will be able to come up with many non-treat based prizes for your GSD. Having said that, please keep in mind that treat rewards are very easy to use and as primary reinforcers are very powerful.

Benefits of using non-treat rewards

  • It adds variety to the mix of rewards. Making each individual reward more valuable as your GSD will not be able to anticipant what will come next
  • Prevents over feeding, reducing obesity and associated heal concerns
  • It provides the opportunity to train your GSD outside of training sessions. Reinforcing leaned behaviour and adding your GSDs repertoire
  • Allow you to better understand your GSD and become in tune with each other

Types non-treat rewards

Verbal Praise

Dogs don’t speak English, words have no effect on them. Verbal praise will only be an effective dog reward without treats if you have taught your GSD the meaning of it. To learn how to do this read Using a Marker Word.

Some GSDs will get extremely excited about verbal praise only because they are able to recognise the body language of their owner, which tells them you are in a good mood! Some GSDs really love verbal praise as they associated it with good consequences (treats, games, walks, etc.).

Verbal praise is one of the many non-treat rewards, mix it with other prizes.

Physical Affection

Some people like hugging, patting, petting and snuggling with their GSD and most of the time their GSD will enjoy these actions as well, however, some tolerate it but don’t particularly enjoy it.

Just like with verbal praise you can teach your GSD to like physical praise. Pet them (or pat them, or hug them, or belly rub them) then give them a treat reward. Do this regularly and randomly and soon you will notice that your GSD will start anticipating and looking forward to physical praise.

Note: you can use other non food rewards for dogs as reinforcers when teaching your dog to enjoy physical interaction.

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Use other non-treat rewards as reinforcers when teaching your GSD to enjoy physical interactions.

Start using physical affection as a reward at that point, although this type of praise is not a primary need of your GSD, therefore you will need to continue it by giving treat rewards after petting every now and then.

Examples of physical praise:

  • Petting, rubbing along the spine
  • Patting on the head or shoulders
  • Rubbing behind the ears
  • Belly rub
  • Massage
  • Cuddles 

Physical Affection

Most GSDs love love their toys and with such a variety of toys available on the market it is simply a matter of finding one that suits your GSDs tastes. 

The majority of GSDs enjoy playing with toys; whether a ball, stuffed toy or even a stick. If your GSD is not motivated by toys this can be remedied as you can teach him/her to appreciate them. Using the same methods as explained in the above section on  “verbal praise” (Marker Word)  and physical praise, simply show them toy, immediately give a food treat and repeat many times.

You can teach your GSD to play with specific toys using the dog training method of shaping. First reward your GSD for sniffing the desired toy, then for licking it, then for picking it up  … and so on.

The best toy rewards are the ones that include time with you!
You can play fetch, tug-of-war and hide and seek.

Toy examples:

  • Squeaky toys ones that make noises your GSD enjoys producing while chewing
  • Textural toys your GSD enjoys while chewing
  • Puzzle toys  – food puzzle toys are a great way to provide enrichment for your dog as they make him or her work for their food
  • Fetch toys: balls, Frisbee, bones, sticks
  • Tug-of-war toys: ropes and stuffed animals

Toys can be excellent non food rewards for dogs!


Games are a brilliant form of non-treat rewarding – but you need to teach your GSD the rules of every game.

Basic rules include: 

  • You start and stop the game
  • If you feel your GSD’s teeth in your skin the game is over
  • If you request the toy (drop-it command) your pet MUST let it go.

Keep “special” game toys locked somewhere. This will give them more value and it will also help in training the above rules.

Game examples:

  • Hide and Seek: you hide, your GSD has to find you. He/she needs to know the command Stay (so you can hide)
  • Fetch
  • Tug of War
  • Treasure Hunt: hide treats around the house, then let your GSD find them.  You can also use a “special” hide and seek toy – generally their favourite toy works best.

Access Rewards

Jackpot Rewards - Things they usually do not get but enjoy

Jackpot rewards are based on some of the many behaviours that your GSD enjoys but may be annoying or inappropriate. Let your GSD engage in them after a really good obedience session.


  • Swimming at the beach, river or dam
  • Getting wet with the sprinklers or hose
  • Chasing birds

Life Rewards - Things they usually get for free

Life rewards are non-treat rewards given freely everyday that can be used in exchange for good behaviour and can be extremely useful in teaching your GSD day-to-day manners.

Instead of letting your GSD jump on the lounge or up on your bed with you whenever he wants, ask him/her to respond correctly to a command first. This will teach your GSD self-control, it will teach him/her to ask for permission before doing certain things.

* Jumping on the lounge
* Sleeping on bed
* Going for walks or out into the yard

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Pay attention during your daily routine and ask your GSD to respond to a command before you proceed to reward him/her.

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