Categories: Small Dog Teaching and Bonding-Published On: December 28, 2022-
Small fluffy white dog on grey sofa watching female hands hiding treat


(850 words; less than 3 minute read). If you’re a small dog parent, you surely already know this: small dogs respond best to positive training and teaching methods. And one of the best positive training methods for small dogs is to use jackpot rewards.

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Background Resources for Positive Dog Training

Red headed adult woman in cream sweater and skirt kneeling with treat to train Papillon dog on leash

If you don’t already know about positive dog training, we recommend spending some time with Dr. Zazie Todd on her blog Companion Animal Psychology, where you can read accessible articles about the technical side of helping our pups to get along in the world. 

Or, you can digest some hard science and read “Does Training Method Matter? Evidence For The Negative Impact Of Aversive-Based Methods On Companion Dog Welfare.” You don’t even need to read the entire article. The paragraph summary will convince you that using negative consequences on our dogs is a bad idea, often leaving our pups anxious at best and aggressive at worst. And, jackpot rewards for small dog training is a positive technique that we’ve found will provide much kinder and quicker results. 

If you go to either resource now, just be sure to come back. It’s easy to get lost in Zazie’s blog (in a good way). And no, I’m not really on a first name basis with her (though I DID just win a copy of her book Wag after asking several questions on a recent Facebook live event featuring Dr. Todd as a guest speaker). 

The Jackpot: It’s Not Just a Lot of Treats at Once

Small brown terrier giving high five to human hand

In keeping with our own commitment to raising our small dogs with positive training methods, I’m sharing the jackpot tip I learned this past month. 

I heard it on a podcast, but I listen to so many they tend to blend into one another. I’ve searched, but I can’t find it and I’m sorry I’m unable to link it here.

In any event, the podcast guest featured a dog trainer sharing how effective jackpot rewards are.  And I immediately thought, well, yes, but my small pups can’t be eating large quantities of treats, unless I want them waddling off into ill-health. 

It turns out, however, that my view of jackpot rewards was woefully narrow and out-of-date. When we were training our golden retrievers, jackpot rewards meant throwing a bunch of treats on the floor after a job well done. You didn’t do it often, but you did do it to reinforce an important behavior. 

What is a Jackpot Reward in Dog Training?

However, jackpots can include not just LOTS of treats, but anything your dog loves that you can convert to a special, surprise reward. For us, that means: 

  • Extra belly rubs for Scout or shoulder massage for Phoebe, all with lavish praise from us
  • Excited talk and encouraging them to follow us for an adventure
  • Hiding their reward treat in one hand and having them sniff out which one
  • Bringing out a particular favorite toy we set aside for just these rewards
  • Running to the refrigerator as part of reward to find their treat

When and How to Use Jackpot Rewards in Dog Training

If you’re a regular reader here, you already know we don’t set aside “training time” for Phoebe and Scout. Just like we did with our human kids (and they’re practically perfect, just ask them), we treat every moment of every day as a teaching opportunity. 

Let me say that again: every moment with our pups offers opportunities to teach them through positive interaction. 

And since I don’t always have treats in my pockets, this new way of looking at jackpots provides both convenience and fun. We can easily provide some type of jackpot once or twice a day. Part of the key to using this system is the special and immediate nature of the reward, as we recently discovered when we stayed a week at my son’s West Hollywood place.

I won’t go into the details of why we took over our oldest son’s home, as it may or may not have involved quarantining from family for a tortuous week-long ordeal. 

But I digress. 

Two havanese snuggled into knit blanket on sofa

Small Dogs Learning to Use Elevator with Jackpot Rewards

Our son’s place is four floors up, and that usually meant using the elevator when taking the girls out. 

Though they’ve used elevators before, Scout wasn’t thrilled with this one’s loud, electronic “going up” and “going down” greeting nor the clanging doors upon open and close. Once we coaxed her in and out frequently enough, we started using jackpot training rewards (praise) to help her graduate from being tentative across the threshold to prancing inside as though she owned the place. 

What is jackpot praise? Well, it may not be an official dog training technique, but it sure works well with Scouty, who thrives on approval. When she entered the elevator, I basically held a party for her, making a big deal of her confidence, speaking happily and in an upbeat tone. My over-the-top praise, which I save for situations where I really want them to learn something (think safety issues like coming when called or stress issues like the elevator, where I don’t want them feeling unsafe), worked beautifully.

Because of the jackpot positive training technique, Scout no longer enters the elevator as though she’s entering some circle of hell. Now, she views it as her job to lead the pack boldly onto the elevator and into our next great adventure. 

Jackpot rewards in dog training for the win. 

We haven’t yet received Dr. Todd’s book Wag, as it’s mailing from the UK. But, we’re excited to read it. We already love her “Fellow Creatures” columns in Psychology Today and her blog Companion Animal Psychology, linked above.

She has the same calm, positive outlook we work toward around here, and we’re certain we’ll pick up more perspective on positive teaching for our pups. We’ll leave a full review when we’re finished reading it.

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