When it comes to training your dog, the biggest motivator will be the reward they receive when they obey. One of the most effective rewards is, you guessed it, dog treats. Sure, training without treats is possible. Throwing a tennis ball might be a decent reward after a long “stay” or “sit.” And a couple of head pats may seem like enough praise for “shake.”
But food treats are often the most convenient and persuasive way to improve your dog’s behavior. There are likely many things your pooch would do for some chicken or cheese. And, if treats are your pup’s preferred reward, it’s only fair you pay them in their favorite kibble for a job well done.
Treats Are Powerful
Food drive is high in most dogs because it is a primary reinforcer. Dogs aren’t trained to want food. They need it to survive. So, naturally, they’ll be willing to do whatever it takes to get some food because that’s how they’re genetically programmed. So, although many would like to think dogs only act a certain way to make us happy, this simply isn’t the case. A pat on the head or verbal praise often aren’t big enough motivators, although incorporating these may still help.
Because treats tap into a dog’s primal instincts, they work for all dogs, no matter their breed or age. Treats are proven to work on both puppies and senior pooches. So, you really can teach an old dog new tricks — as long as the right food is involved.
Using the right treat for your dog’s training could make or break their progress. But there are so many kinds of kibble to choose from, you may not know where to begin. For training purposes, you want treats to be small and easy to chew, especially if you’re training a puppy. A big bone or slab of rawhide will only distract them since these foods take longer to chew. So, keep your dog satisfied and concentrated with tiny bits of kibble.
It’s also imperative you choose a flavor your dog enjoys. If they love the taste of cheese, purchase nacho flavored treats, or if chicken is their preferred flavor, reward them with that flavor. This may take some trial and error, but once you find a treat they genuinely crave, you can stick with that flavor. You might also try offering dog-safe foods like peanut butter, small pieces of meat, cheese or vegetables. Some dogs may prefer these over treats, so feel free to experiment.
Use Treats Effectively
Whether you’re new to training or a seasoned professional, using treats correctly will help yield successful results quickly, allowing you to make the most of your training efforts. Often, owners use treats as positive reinforcement, rewarding dogs with food for following commands and withholding the reward when they disobey. This is the correct and most effective way to train.
Remember that dogs aren’t naturally programmed to respond quickly to commands so training your dog will require a decent amount of patience, diligence and time. As the owner, it’s ultimately up to you to decide how much effort you’ll put into training your pet.
While reinforcement trains your dog to obey even without the presence of treats, bribery trains them to only obey if you have food for them. For example, you’ve been training your dog and positively reinforcing his behavior for a few days. He’s proven he knows the command “sit” and you’re ready to try the command without the treat. You say “sit,” but your dog doesn’t bat an eye. Only when you show him a treat does he obey.
This is bribery and will only guarantee short-term gains, rendering your efforts useless. So how do you avoid bribing your pooch? The trick is to keep treats hidden from the start, only showing them after they have obeyed a command. Once they have a good grasp on a certain gesture or verbal cue, reward them infrequently and randomly. This ensures your dog doesn’t solely rely on treats to obey.
Phasing Out Dog Treats
Of course, you don’t want to have to rely on treats to make your dog obey every single time. So, once your pup consistently responds to cues in a variety of environments with different distractions, it’s time to wean him off the treats. Begin grading your dog on the quality of his response to your commands. Only reward them with treats if they respond promptly and correctly. Otherwise, simply give them a pat or a verbal praise. This schedule of reinforcement will build reliability and frequency.
Once you’ve established quick, quality obedience, focus on creating a variable intermittent schedule. Give your dog treats randomly and infrequently so they never know when they might be rewarded. This will keep them performing long-term and ensure they obey the majority of the time. So, you’ll no longer have to carry treats on you everywhere you go. Combine this variable schedule with real-life rewards like long walks, cuddles and tennis balls and you’ll have a dog that consistently and happily responds to your commands — which, of course, rewards both your pet and you.