Using Treats In Dog Training And Behavior Modification Successfully

Using Treats In Dog Training And Behavior Modification Successfully

By Veronica Sanchez M.Ed. CABC

Professional dog trainers often recommend using treats for training and behavior modification because food is inherently rewarding to the animal and you can quickly deliver many small treats in a short period of time. Puppies can be easily trained basic commands from a very young age using food rewards. However, many people become concerned that their dog will only perform in the presence of a treat. Others worry that their dog or puppy may become overweight. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to avoid these problems.

You can prevent having your dog develop a weight problem by using your dog’s regular food in “boring” situations, such as when you are training at home. Your dog can even earn his meals by performing simple obedience skills. Make dry kibble more enticing by mixing in a few dog treats that have a strong odor with the kibble. The treats will make the kibble smell more appetizing to the dog. Many nutritious treats are now available that your dog will love and are great for training in distracting situations. Use very small-sized nutritious rewards that can be quickly swallowed. For a medium or large dogs, treats the size of a pea are appropriate. Puppy trainers and trainers of toy breed dogs may use pieces even smaller than that.

Timing is essential for success. Consider the following scenario: you ask your dog to sit, and he ignores you. Next, you get a treat and then ask your dog to sit. You have just trained your dog to hold out for a treat. Be careful, do not reach into your treat bag or treat container before asking your dog to sit. The very sound and motion of your hand reaching for the treat can quickly become the cue your dog responds to.

Keep in mind that dogs are responsive to subtle changes such as your use of a fanny pack or bait bag. Dogs can learn that you only reward them when you are wearing the bag. Sometimes train without the pack, just put treats in your pocket instead. Whenever possible, keep the treat container off your body. For example, keep several containers with treats in different locations in your home. Then ask your dog to sit or lie down, and get the treat from the container.

Professional trainers and dog behavior consultants often emphasize the use of non-food rewards as well. Ask your dog to sit before putting his leash on, letting him out of the car, or letting him go through a door. The opportunity to tug on a toy, retrieve a ball or play with a friendly dog can also be rewards for basic obedience.

You can also use food to increase the motivational power of other rewards your dog likes, but not as much as food. If your dog does not care for praise, give your dog a treat right after you have praised him. Your dog will associate praise with the treat and enjoy praise more. Over time, you can work towards rewarding your dog with food some of the time and using rewards such as praise and petting other times. It is important to continue to reward behavior you would like to see repeated however, as the best way to make a behavior disappear is to stop rewarding it!

About the Author: Veronica Sanches has a Masters in Education, Bachelors in Psychology, certified in Animal Behavior Consulting and is endorsed by the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors. She’s a dog trainer who enjoys training puppies, dogs and solving behavior problems. Visit

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