Canines are motivated by the promise of food more than any other reward. They will drop whatever they are doing if they think there is a chance they can receive a tasty morsel. This is the reason professional trainers recommend using food treats whenever you train your dog. But the rewards must be used properly to avoid training – and even behavioral – problems.
This article will first explain why food is such a powerful tool for training your pet. We’ll then describe different ways to use them as well as how to prevent your canine from perceiving treats as bribes. Lastly, we’ll offer a few tips you can use immediately during training sessions to produce the results you’re seeking.
Food Compared To Other Rewards
Canines enjoy many other rewards besides food. More importantly, they are motivated to do what is necessary to receive them, which makes the non-food rewards useful for training purposes. These include their favorite toys, praise and petting, and the chance to take a walk. Many dogs are compelled by the opportunity to join their owners on the couch. Each of these incentives can be effective.
But food treats are special. Canines are instinctively drawn to them. As a result, there are few incentives that can reinforce commands and shape behaviors as effectively as food.
Dog Treats As A Lure And Reward
There are a few ways to use treats when training your dog. The most common strategies include using them as lures and rewards. Lure-training is done by showing the reward to your pet, and “luring” him into doing what you wish. For example, suppose you are teaching him to sit. With lure-training, you would show the treat to him, and hold it above his head, and slowly move it backward. As he turns his nose upward in an attempt to follow your hand, his hind quarters will fall to the ground.
Using food as a reward is done by giving your canine the treat once he has complied with your command. There is no need to show it to him. Nor is there a need to place it near him. Through repetition, he will learn that he can expect a reward if he does what you ask of him.
How To Prevent A Treat From Becoming A Bribe
One common mistake that a lot of owners make is to unintentionally train their pets to view the food as a bribe for their compliance. This happens gradually by accident. The owner will issue a command, which the canine ignores. Seeking to motivate the dog, the owner then takes a treat from his pocket and shows it to him. The pet, realizing he can earn food by complying with his owner’s command, performs successfully.
This seems to be a victory for the owner. But it is a short-term one. He has trained his canine to only comply with commands if there is a clear promise of a treat.
One way to avoid this problem is to use a clicker during training sessions. In the beginning, you’ll need to establish a connection between the click and the reward. This can be done by providing the reward immediately after you use the clicker. As time progresses, however, you can provide it every other click, and eventually, every third or fourth click. This creates the expectation in your dog that he might receive a treat, but it is not guaranteed. As a result, he will be less likely to view them as a bribe for compliance.
A Few Last Tips About Using Food Rewards
Dog treats are most effective when they are small and soft. This allows your pet to eat them quickly without making a mess on the floor. Hard treats will break apart into crumbs, which will distract your canine from the training session.
Also, slowly incorporate praise and petting in the place of food. As noted earlier, both are powerful motivators for dogs, and will motivate them to comply. Incorporating them will also alleviate the need to always carry treats with you.
Lastly, experiment with different types of food. Your canine might enjoy chicken more than cheese. Or, he may prefer his kibble to pieces of pasta. Try different tastes to find those he enjoys the most. Save the “special” treats for times when you train him in public, where he might otherwise become distracted.