Food can be extremely effective when it comes to dog training, because it is a powerful motivator for dogs. The fact is that food is a very primal force for dogs and it makes sense to use it to help to encourage dogs in their training. Whether or not it is a good idea though, is an entirely different question. So, let’s have the discussion here, shall we?
Table of Contents
- 1 Dog Training: Should You Use Treats?
- 2 Tips for Using Treats in Dog Training
- 2.1 Use small treats
- 2.2 Wait until the trick or behavior is done before rewarding your dog
- 2.3 Reward with each step of the command
- 2.4 Give praise
- 2.5 Remove any distractions
- 2.6 Use different treats
- 2.7 Offer treats where you want the dog to be
- 2.8 Here are some of our favorite treats that our dogs love
- 3 Do not bribe your dog
- 4 Do recognize that not all dogs are the same
Dog Training: Should You Use Treats?
Trying to decide whether or not you should use treats in dog training is a personal decision, but there are some pros and cons that we can discuss here to help you decide which decision is right for you.
Treats are a Powerful Motivator
Food often makes dogs happy. A happy dog is easier to train, there is no question about this. Many trainers have found dogs to be more willing to work with them because they are excited to get those treats. Yes, dogs do like getting praise from their people, but they also really, really like food.
Food is very recognizable to a dog. That means that after the first training treat it is easy for the dog to recognize what he will be getting next time. To reinforce good behavior with treats will increase the likelihood that your dog will continue to follow the requests that you make to them.
Dogs are a primal animal. Food, to dogs, is a primal motivation for them. Without question, you automatically know that dogs are going to like food. It is very unlikely that they will turn their nose up at this offering.
Food treats are easy to use, easy to store, and cheap to buy
You can keep packs of food treats in your home, in your car, in your handbag, just about anywhere. This makes it easier to train your dog and reward him no matter where you are.
Tips for Using Treats in Dog Training
When you begin to train your dog, it is important to keep in mind these tips for using treats in dog training to help your training become more successful.
Use small treats
Training dogs often involves constant praise and rewards, which can easily become lots and lots of treats. It is very easy to overdo it when it comes to giving your dog treats. You don’t want to give your dog an unhealthy amount of treats, so be sure to always use small treats in your dog training.
Alternatively, if you feed your dog kibble, you could portion out their food for the day and use mealtimes as training sessions. I did this with Dylan when I first started training him myself. He used to attack the vacuum. So I would throw handfuls of his kibble first around the vacuum (while it was turned off). Then I would turn it on (but not move it) and throw kibble. Then slowly I would move it and throw kibble.
Of course this took a matter of weeks to increase the stages. But it worked. And thankfully because of this technique, he didn’t get excessive amount of calories.
Wait until the trick or behavior is done before rewarding your dog
Make sure to wait until your dog has already completed the command before you offer him the treats. It’s important to not give them a treat at the wrong time or when they are in the wrong frame of mind. Making sure to offer rewards at the right time will help them understand what it is that they are being rewarded for.
Reward with each step of the command
Many people often assume that the dog should perform an entire task before they get their reward. However, it is difficult for dogs to understand this. You will be more successful in your training if you reward the progress as it goes as opposed to waiting until the end.
Trust me, you will likely become frustrated with training if you decide to wait until the end to offer rewards. You need to break down what you are training for into smaller steps/milestones and reward for each of those.
Once your dog completes the task, first give verbal praise and pet him. Then, with your other hand, offer the treat. As the training goes on, offer less treats, but still lots of praise.
Remove any distractions
If your pup struggles to pay attention, make sure to remove any distractions. Complete the training in a place free of anything that would typically distract your dog. As they learn, you can move into areas with more distractions and retrain those tasks.
Use different treats
Using the same treat over and over can create a very unmotivated dog, especially if this treat isn’t one tasty enough to excite your pup. Using different, delicious, and healthy treats is a great way to keep your dog motivated and keep his attention. There are so many different treat types, your dog is sure to love some of them!
If you are training in an area of high distraction or perhaps a difficult task, you want a high-reward treat. High-reward treats can be something extra special like pieces of hot dogs or cheese. It’s something that your dog loves but doesn’t get regularly.
Offer treats where you want the dog to be
During training, it is important to not confuse your dog. If you want the dog to lay down, then offer the reward once they are laying down. If you want him to sit, offer him the reward in sitting position. Having the dog stand back up to give him the treat will prove to be confusing.
Here are some of our favorite treats that our dogs love
Remember you are only giving your dog small treats when training. So these bison liver & blueberry training treats are the perfect size. They are tiny so great for training sessions.
These freeze-dried salmon filet treats are a great choice for dog training. They are pungent so they would be a good choice if you are looking for something that’s a high reward. And they are good if you are practicing “nose work.” Also, they are in small chunks which make them easy to carry and use.
These freeze-dried duck treats are 100% natural and are good because you can break them into smaller pieces if needed.
Do not bribe your dog
Bribing is not the same as training. Yes, you can use treats to help teach the dogs the proper behaviors, however, you should make it a habit to use them less and less in your training so that your dog knows that food is not the only reason that they are following commands. As your training goes on, replace small treats with praise and affection.
The goal when using treats for dog training is to not have to use them indefinitely. Eventually you will reach a point where you no longer have to use treats in order to coax the behavior out of your dog.
Do recognize that not all dogs are the same
It is important to realize that not all dogs are food oriented. Dog treats simply won’t work for all dogs during their training. If your dog seems to be not very interested in the food treats when it comes to training, you can try toys. Dylan is very food motivated so that made life a bit easier.
Rainey, however, when I first got her, was very nervous and scared of the world around her. And therefore, she was at times too anxious for treats. What I finally figured out that just going super slow and giving her lots of praise and encouragement helped more than treats. She used to be too scared to walk passed the storm drains on the street. Treats wouldn’t help with this. But baby steps and lots of praise did. But fun “games”—like sit, place, come—she loves doing for treats.
Did you train your own dog? What reward did you choose when you were training your dog? What would you do differently?