12 March 2015 | Life with your best friend

Dog Training: To treat or not to treat?

You’re at the end of your tether. No amount of shouting, smacking, or punishing is getting your dog to behave in the manner you wish him to. He won’t heel, doesn’t sit when asked and jumps all over your guests. Bottom line – your dog needs training. Dog behaviourists and trainers for years have advocated that positive affirmation is the way to go when training your dog, and using treats to do it comes up trumps.

Why do treats work when training?

Quite simply, dogs love food. And they have a keen sense of smell. So it makes sense that using food is an effective training tool. Your dog does something right – you reward him with a treat –he eventually associates that behaviour with getting a treat. It’s a win win. However, there are some guidelines to follow when using treats as an effective training tool:

What treats to use:

  • You will be giving them fairly often and you want them to be swallowed quickly, so keep them small and tasty.
  • To keep your dog interested and motivated in the task at hand, vary the treat.
  • Make sure your dog enjoys said treat! Just like us, dogs do have preferences as to what they like to eat, so make sure your dog enjoys it, otherwise your training is going to be pretty ineffective.
  • Aim for healthy treats, but the odd doggy “junk food” when it comes to training is fine.

How to train using treats:

The lure technique is probably the most common. Using “sit” as an example, show the dog the treat by putting it close to his nose, and then move your hand upwards along the nose to just above his head. The dog will automatically follow the treat with his nose and eyes, raising his head, forcing his bum down into the sit position in the process. As soon as his bum hits the ground give him the treat. This method works well with “lie”, “roll over”, etc. But remember to always offer the treat the instant the behaviour has been performed (as well as where you want your dog to be – ie next to you if you are training your dog to walk next to you on a leash) so that the association is formed.

Common problems when using treats

  • Don’t bribe your dog with treats. Always give the treat as a reward after they have completed the desired behaviour, not before. Showing (or even giving) the treat before they have performed the task at hand constitutes bribery and chances are your dog will never learn to do the skill without the treat.
  • Train in between meals and not on a full stomach. Yes, even dogs get full. Time your training for approximately two hours after mealtimes, when they aren’t ravenous but aren’t full either. You’ll get the most attention from them that way.
  • Don’t train when dog is stressed or distracted. Treat or no treat, if your dog is more interested in chasing the cat next door or scared of the thunderstorm you aren’t going to get any joy. Make sure they are focused and that you have their undivided attention.

Will you have to use treats forever?

No. If you use them correctly in your training, you can eventually phase out having to use treats entirely. Using our “sit” example of earlier, when asking your dog to sit using the treat, make sure you use an appropriate hand gesture as well as say “SIT” in a firm and commanding voice. After a certain time, you can start only offering the treat after every second command/attempt until eventually they will respond to the hand gesture or the command only. But remember to reward him in other ways once the treat is out of the picture. Give him a pat on the head, allow him to sniff around the tree, play etc . And of course, the odd treat every now and then will be gladly welcomed by your well-deserving dog! Using treats is an effective and efficient method of training your dog as long as you manage the process properly. If unsure, find a dog trainer in your area and sign up for a few lessons. It will be money well spent and you’ll enjoy a lifetime of reciprocal happiness with your pooch.  

Did you know that Regal has healthy, Training Treats that can be used to treat effectively? Try it out!

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