Why is it so hard for us to praise the dogs when they are giving us the behaviour we want? All I'm asking is that you use your voice to reward your dog when he/she is doing what you have asked them to do. If you've asked your dog to 'stay', then start praising him as soon as he sits down and keep praising him as you move away from him, providing that his bum is still on the floor. Guide him with your voice to which behaviour you like.
There are so many ways to reward your dog. You can reward your dog with your voice, with a touch, with a favourite toy or with a treat. In all training, be sure to vary the type of treats you use, the environment you train in, the type of rewards you use. However, when you are just beginning a new exercise, you should remain in the same environment until you are confident your dog knows what you expect him/her to do. When your dog knows an exercise well, you can cut out the treat and just praise your dog with your voice or with a pat.
To tell you the truth, most dog owners I have met don't know how to use their voices when training their dog. It is a such a shame, because it gives a new dimension to a lot of dog/owner relationships! For example - when your dog is successful in a search for a toy, raise your voice and congratulate him/her as you would congratulate someone who just won a million pounds!
If you are setting your dog on a trail, be secretive and whisper to him/her, as you let them go out on the trail.
If you are training obedience and your dog has a problem with concentration - let your voice sing, talk to your dog in a conspiring voice for a few seconds and then surprise him/her by talking fast at a high pitch. Put in some pregnant pauses and you will soon see some results.
Don't be afraid of using your voice and talking to your dog, rather than using physical force. If your dog is loosing interest in you and start focusing on another dog in the park, for example, a simple "hmmhmm" could be sufficient for the dog to remember where he/she should be focusing. Try it!
This is probably the most sensitive of the rewards. Some dogs don't like physical contact, so if you have doubts, go with one of the other options. Some people give their dogs heavy slamming pats to their sides (this is an especially frequent behaviour with men ;-) ).
Now, I happen to believe that we should try to work as much as possible with the dogs natural behaviour in mind and I can't think of any normal dog or wolf situation where they would get heavy banging to their sides other than during boisterous play. On the other hand, it would be quite a natural situation to get a stroking pat along their sides or back, as that would resemble their mothers licking when they were puppies.
Another thing to think about is not to pat your dog on the head from above. A lot of dogs really dislike it, some even find it petrifying. So try to reward your dog with stroking motions over the neck, back or sides and not to tower over him/her too much while doing so.
If you are lucky enough to have a dog that is mad about toys or at least a toy, it will make your training so much easier. Using a toy will save you from the problems of your dog putting on weight, which can be hazardous. A toy can be thrown and it can be seen from a distance. A tip is to put the favourite toy away when you are not training. Make those training sessions extra special by taking down that favourite toy down from the shelf as you go out for your training. When you come indoors again, put the toy back on the shelf. Your dog can have other toys to play with indoors, but make the training toy extra special, by making it tabu in all other situations.
If you have a Labrador this is the only option. Jokes aside, treats are good, but make sure that the treats are no bigger than peanuts, no matter what size your dog is. Do make the pieces even smaller if you have a small dog. You can vary the amount of treats you give your dog per exercise and also vary the type of treat. For example, if you call your dog to come to you, the reward the first time could, for example, be 2 pieces of liver treats, the next time you will give him/her 5 pieces of pancake (remember that the pieces should be no bigger than peanuts!). Yet another time you reward your dog with 1 piece of cheese.
Obviously you will have to check what kind of treats your dog likes first. Some dogs prefer biscuits and other dogs prefer some kind of meat. Some dogs prefer pancakes and other dogs prefer dog chocolates. Be aware that you should never give a dog human chocolate, as it can be lethal (a 100gram chocolate bar could kill a small dog). Some dogs are allergic to milk products, so you shouldn't give him/her cheese or pancakes.
It is also vital that you cut down on your dogs food when you are training a lot and giving your dog lots of treats. Letting your dog become overweight is really cruel, it will put a lot of strain on their bodies and can cause a lot of physical problems.
To make training special and something that your dog cherishes, you should put in some boring pauses in your training. If you are keeping your dog on a lead while training, just stop in your tracks, stand straight up, stand still and ignore your dog for a couple of minutes. When you are having a break, don't yank the lead if your dog pulls on it, don't push him/her down if he/she jumps up on you (make sure you have clothes on that will take that kind of treatment, if your dog is prone to jumping up), and don't shout at your dog if it starts barking.
When you have had your break, you can make yourself interesting again by animating yourself.