Food is a powerful motivator among animals. That’s why it is always used in the initial phases of training dogs. We have to emphasize “initial” because you don’t want your dog to think of the food or treat as a bribe. This is one of the most common mistakes of novice pet owners who are training their dogs using treats. The key to the effective use of treats and other yummy doggie snacks in canine training is knowing when to and when not to use them. What you would want to happen is for your dog to follow your commands without having to resort to treats all the time. Here are some tips on how you can train your dog using treats.
Choose the Right Treat
People call treats as such because it is something that you don’t get very often. This is the same thing with dog treats. They should be something special. These are food items that Fido doesn’t get to eat very often. As such, if you use the same kibbles that it eats day in and day out, then there’s a strong chance it might not work. This is because the dog will see it as an ordinary food, not as a special treat.
This is where food selection comes in. There are commercially-available doggie snacks that you can use for such a purpose. However, be very careful since you also need to observe the 10-percent rule when it comes to treating. At least 90 percent of a dog’s calorie requirements should always come from its high-quality dog food. Hence, any food outside its regular meal should comprise not more than 10 percent of its calorie needs.
It is for this reason that you have to choose smaller treats. This will help limit your dog’s calorie intake from treating. Otherwise, you will also need to adjust its meal portions.
Try Using Different Treats
Commercially-available treats are always a good option. However, there’s a chance that your dog may not like it since these may look and taste like their usual food. As such, you may want to try other healthy snacks that dogs can eat.
You can use slices of cooked chicken or beef. Make sure not to add any spice or salt to these food items when you cook them. Baby carrots are always a great option for doggie treating. Other good alternatives are slices of cooked salmon, cooked turkey and pork, low-fat cheese, and blueberries. Pineapple bits, watermelons, blackberries, green peas, and apples are also good choice. Broccoli, sweet potatoes, coconut meat, strawberries, and bananas will always be great additions to your arsenal of doggie snacks.
Keep the Treats Out of Your Dog’s Sight
One of the most common mistakes that novice dog owners make when training dogs is that they don’t keep the treats out of their dog’s sight. This can teach the dog to only react or listen to your command if it knows that you have a treat with you. If the dog sees the special food, it is telling your dog that the treat is imminent. So it pays attention.
This is equivalent to bribing. This occurs because you are enticing them to perform the desired behavior using the treat. It is also almost similar to luring your dog. Luring is using the treat to make your dog do something. While there are certain dog tricks that utilize treats as a lure, these are never considered as rewards.
You don’t want to either bribe or lure your dog using treats. When you use treats as bribe or lure, you’re teaching your dog to perform only because there is food involved. What your canine friend needs to learn is to respond to your command and not because there’s a treat waiting for it.
What you want is for your dog to pay attention and perform the behavior without seeing the treat. It is for this reason that pet parents should conceal the treats. A pouch will come in handy. You can also use your pocket for such a purpose. However, it is critical that your dog doesn’t see you getting the treat from these locations. Otherwise, it may know the coming of a snack the moment you put your hands in your pocket or in the pouch.
Make sure to reward your dog only when it has completed the action or behavior that you desire. A reward has an element of surprise to it.
Timing is Crucial
Treating is an essential component of positive reinforcement. It is a reward for accomplishing what the pet parent wants the dog to perform. Hence, timing is crucial. When rewarding your dog, it should come as soon as the dog accomplishes the desired action. For instance, if you’re teaching your dog to “sit”, then the reward should come as soon as the dog’s bottom hits the floor. If you reward your dog when it is already standing up, you’re rewarding the dog for standing up.
Some dog tricks require several actions. For example, teaching your dog to roll over requires at least two steps. First, it must learn to go from a standing position to a “down” position. From this position, you can then entice it to roll over by using the treat. At each step, you need to reward your dog. From a standing position, reward your dog the moment it is already in the down position. As it accomplishes the roll, then reward your dog again.
Timing is critical when it comes to rewarding dogs in training. The dog should always associate the reward to the recently-accomplished action. This is why they call it positive reinforcement because you are reinforcing the desired behavior with a reward. You may not get it the first time. With constant practice, you will be able to execute the correct timing of the reward.
Always Incorporate Other “Rewards”
Not all dogs find food to be rewarding, since they already can get this every day. As such, you can always incorporate other forms of rewards such as a favorite dog toy or a lavish praise. Dogs love being petted by their human owners. For many dogs, this is more meaningful than having a tasty treat in their mouths. Some dogs love the attention that their human companions give them. This alone is enough motivation for them to do well in their training.
These rewards can be very useful in the long run. Remember that the goal of dog training is for your pet to follow your commands. Treats are very helpful in the initial stages of training. However, as your dog learns to master the behavior, you should resort to treating less often. That is why incorporating other rewards together with treats can help prepare your pet to execute the command without the treat.
Phase Out the Lure
It is inadvertent that some dog tricks will require luring your dog with a treat. A classic example of this is when teaching your pet to roll over. In order for your dog to execute this, you need to lure it by showing and moving a treat over its head. The natural reaction of the dog is to follow the treat. This is the lure. Once the dog is able to complete the roll, then you can give its reward.
Phasing out the lure is important so that it doesn’t turn into a bribe. To do this, use the treat only a few times to lure it to accomplish what you want. In the succeeding training sessions, you can still move your hands in the same manner. However, there is no more treat in your hand. Instead, use a verbal cue to mark the behavior. Once marked, give the dog its treat from your other hand or from your treat pouch.
Gradually Phase Out the Treat
Like the lure, you will have to phase out the treat sooner or later. The point here is that you don’t want your dog to perform the trick only because it knows it will have a yummy delicacy afterwards. This is where incorporating other rewards can be very useful.
For best results, use treats in the initial phases of the training only. After a few sessions, incorporate other forms of rewards like a toy or lavish praise. After a couple more sessions, you can reduce the amount of treats that you use and give more of the other life rewards. As you progress with the training, give treats once in a while.
Remove Distractions during Training
If this is your first time training a dog, then it is important to perform the training in a quiet environment. It should be free of any distractions such as other people or other animals. If your house is near a busy street, it is often advisable to train your dog at certain times of the day when there is less vehicular traffic. The noise of honking and buzzing cars can distract your dog’s focus.
Treats are a great tool to train your dog. However, these are not the only rewards you can give to your pet. At the end of the day, what matters is whether your dog obeys your command or not.
- How to Use Dog Treats Correctly in Dog Training – Labrador Training HQ
- Positive Reinforcement: Training Your Dog with Treats and Praise – Better Homes & Gardens