Using Treats During Training

Hi all, George here. Today I’d like to talk about using treats during training. When used properly, they can be a very effective training tool. However, all too often I see dogs that are behaving poorly because the treats were used improperly.

Dogs are food-motivated, and as such will respect whoever they perceive to be in control of their food. I discussed the topic of food guarding in a previous blog, which you can read here. If you have not read it, I would recommend you do so before reading this post. Many of the lessons covered in the food guarding blog can be applied to using treats for training.

It is important to remember that treats should only be given when your dog performs exactly as you wanted them to. Too often I see people get frustrated when trying to train their dog, and they’ll end up giving them the treat just because they “sort of” did what they were supposed to. The dog does not understand this. If you asked the dog to sit, but they laid down, don’t give them a treat, or else they’ll think laying down is what they were supposed to do. Just because you have shown them the treat does not mean you have to give it to them.

Once your dog has learned the behavior you are trying to teach them, it is important that you reduce the number of treats. If you give your dog a treat every single time they complete the behavior they will develop a sense of entitlement. They will expect that treat every time, and will behave poorly if they do not get it. In training classes I have actually had dogs attack me for the treat I was holding even though they did not earn it. They felt that it was owed to them.

Treats are best dispensed randomly. Once your dog has learned the behavior, start shaking it up. Keep them guessing. When treats are given randomly the pet will work harder for the reward and will develop better recall of the command. Remember, with all dog training, the ultimate goal is to get them working for your approval, not for treats. Always reward your dog by communicating that you are pleased with their behavior by exhibiting quiet, calm serenity and giving your dog a light touch on the head. Your calmness will motivate them to work for your satisfaction. An occasional treat will just be the icing on the cake, so to speak. Your dog is happy when you are happy.

Be sure to check back often for more tips and tricks on giving your pet the happiest and healthiest life possible. George Domsic is the owner at Benchmark Pet Services, and has more than 40 years experience in the field of dog training and psychology.

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