When it comes to teaching your dog a thing or two, treats and training go hand in hand. The right dog treat can make training sessions a heck of a lot easier, allowing you to educate your dog on certain tricks and behaviours in a much shorter time frame. But when it comes to training with dog treats, it’s not necessarily as straightforward as handing your doggo any old snack at any given interval. There are certain things to know about the process that’ll make it much simpler for your dog to understand what they’re being taught.
To help you use treats in training the right way, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide.
Why should you be training with dog treats?
Dog treats are fantastic incentives when teaching your dog new tricks and behaviours. Sure, a pat on the head or a decent belly rub are nice. But nothing motivates a dog quite like food.
Dogs will generally work hard for food, as it’s considered a primary reinforcer – something that’s necessary for their survival. In other words, they’ll be more likely to implement certain behaviours to get food because they genuinely need it.
Plus, dog treats come in all shapes, sizes, flavours, and textures. You’re bound to find one that your doggo absolutely loves, making them a versatile and easy-to-source training lure.
What kinds of treats should you use for dog training?
On that note, what are the best treats for dog training? There’s really no singular answer here – it really depends on your pooch’s preferences. Your dog might go nuts for a lick of peanut butter. Or, they may prefer dried chicken feet (look, each to their own…).
But, you’ll generally want to go for something that your dog doesn’t get to eat regularly. This ensures they recognise that this is a special treat, and will make them more likely to perform the trick or behaviour you want without getting distracted.
Here are a few staple treats that many dogs enjoy:
- Bits of cooked chicken (just make sure it’s plain with all the fat trimmed off)
- Peanut butter
- Small cubes of cheese
- Healthy, natural dog treats, like jerky or dried animal bits
- If you’ve got the inclination, you could even try making homemade dog treats!
Try a few different treats before settling on one that your dog likes. You may also find that, over time, your dog starts to get bored of a particular treat. If that’s the case, you can switch up their training treats to keep them motivated and excited to learn.
How to train your dog using treats in five easy steps
Ready to begin training with treats? Here’s how to get started!
- Get your treats ready
Your first step is to figure out the right training treats. Your second is to prepare these treats for your initial training session.
You don’t want to give your dog huge chunks of meat or an entire stick of jerky every time they do something correctly. Firstly, this will result in them eating too much food. It will also mean training sessions will be slowed down as you wait for your dog to finish their treat. Plus, big treats are harder to handle while you’re teaching your dog.
Instead, make sure each treat is the size of a pea at most. If you’ve got bigger treats, you can break them down into small pieces.
- Select the right environment
Any time you’re training your dog, you’ll want to do so in an environment that’s free of distractions. The key to successfully training with dog treats is to make the behaviour – and the reward – the main focus. If there are loud noises or other people around, your dog might get distracted and lose interest in the task at hand.
- Reward progress
When you start teaching your dog a new behaviour or trick, the idea is to work in steps. You can’t expect your pooch to sit on the first go. However, they might very well use their nose to follow the treat in your hand as you encourage the behaviour. (Wondering what on Earth we’re talking about here? Make sure to check out our list of easy dog tricks, including ‘sit’!)
Every time your pupper completes the right step towards a trick or behaviour, hand them a treat. No matter how big or small the progress, you basically want to guide your doggo towards doing the right thing. Eventually, they’ll catch on, and you can start rewarding them only for the completed behaviour to demonstrate the ultimate goal.
- Get your timing right
Training is all about positive reinforcement. You want to reward your dog for the right behaviours, not punish them for the wrong ones or confound them about why you’re rewarding them. This is why timing is so important in dog training.
Give your dog a treat immediately after the behaviour you’re trying to reinforce. Don’t wait a few seconds or minutes, as this can confuse them. As well, don’t make them fetch the treat. This will cause them to lose the association between the behaviour and the reward.
Here’s an example: if you’re teaching your dog to sit, hand them a treat almost as soon as their bum hits the ground. After a few minutes of waiting, they might’ve already laid down and started licking themselves. If you then give them a treat, they may think you’re rewarding them for doing so.
Another golden rule is to never give your dog a treat before they’ve completed a step. This is when training with treats enters ‘bribe’ territory, which can become problematic – but more on this shortly.
- Fade out
As time goes on and your doggo starts to learn each trick or behaviour, you can cut back on the treats. This helps ensure that your dog doesn’t demand them each and every time they sit or roll over.
Once they’ve mostly mastered a new behaviour, start incorporating other rewards alongside the treat – such as a pat or rub. Then, give the treats at random intervals, not every time they complete a trick. Eventually, you can remove the treats entirely. You should hopefully find that your dog does the right thing without expecting a tasty reward.
Other tips for training with dog treats
To make training a positive and beneficial experience for both of you, here are a few other things to note when using treats.
Watch their food intake
Every treat counts towards your pupper’s daily energy intake, so ensure you’re not giving them too much food. You can adjust their regular meals to account for the extra calories, which can help prevent them from becoming overweight. This is another reason why small treats are ideal during training.
Make sure it’s a reward, not a bribe
If you’re not careful, treats can easily turn into bribes. This is when your dog expects a treat before they’ve even completed a certain behaviour.
As an example, you may be teaching your dog to roll over. After a few training sessions, your doggo has gotten to the point where they’ll lie down in preparation for a full roll. But suddenly, they refuse to lie down unless you give them a treat. If you hand them the treat as an incentive to roll over, it’s considered a bribe.
The key to avoiding this kind of situation is to ensure you only give your dog a treat after they’ve completed a step, not beforehand. And, fade out the use of treats as quickly as you can.
If you’re struggling, call in help
In order to be effective, training needs to be done regularly – ideally every day. But, you may not have the time to dedicate to teaching your dog new behaviours. Or, you may be having a bit of trouble getting them to master certain things, even with the addition of their favourite treats.
This is where an expert Dog Trainer can really come in handy. Not only can they take the hard work off your hands when you don’t have the capacity to do it yourself, but they know all the tricks of the trade to turn your furbaby into a well-trained pooch!