Is Dog Training Treat Just a Treat?
Using Dog Treats as Training Aids
From a dog's perspective, a dog training treat is an exciting, tangible incentive. From a dog owner's perspective, treats are an excellent tool to communicate a job well done, especially during the initial stages of learning.
In order to increase your dog's motivation, make sure to choose your training treats wisely.
Skip the dog kibble your dog eats every day or those stale dog cookies you forgot eons ago in the cookie jar. High value treats are the way to go!
Understanding Why Treats Work
When it comes to rewards, dogs and humans have quite different preferences.
In the human world, work is mostly compensated with paychecks, bonuses and other enticing perks. Dogs are thankfully simpler to reward; indeed, many dogs will literally do cart-wheels just for a chunk of chicken or a hot dog sliver! Besides, dogs don't care about money!
Food, in dog training terms, is a primary reinforcer, basically something the dog intrinsically likes without learning to like such as toys, walks in the park and cuddling from mom.
When you are using a dog training treat to train your dog, you are basically motivating your dog and rewarding at the same time. Motivation creates the ideal environment for learning since it instills in your dog a desire for performing a behavior. A reward, on the other hand, provides positive feedback so your dog knows what behavior you want.
This is the core of positive reinforcement training, a scientific, reward-based training method focusing on learning theory.
Debunking Some Common Myths
At times, dog owners worry about the consequences of using treats to train their dogs. One of the main concerns is the owner's fear of becoming an automatic treat dispenser forced to dole out food for the rest of the dog's life. Another common fear is dogs becoming obese, stubborn and spoiled as a result of using treats.
Truth is, reward-based training methods do not require you to become a treat vending machine. Indeed, if you practice proper portion control, use healthy dog training treats and reward only the behaviors you desire, your dog will likely become neither fat nor spoiled.
To better understand how often a dog training treat must be given, it helps to rely on a schedule of reinforcement. Schedules of reinforcement are simply programs that determine the frequency with which rewards are given depending on the dog's stage of learning. Dogs appear to learn best initially through a continuous rate of reinforcement, and then once the behavior is acquired, through a variable schedule.
Teaching "Lie Down" Using a Dog Training Treat
A dog can be trained easily and effectively to lie down using a dog training treat. In this case, we will use a training method known as ''luring'' because the dog will be lured into position using a dog training treat as a guide. Once the dog lies down, the treat is delivered so to reward the dog for being in that position.
- Place a tasty treat between your thumb and index finger allowing a bit to protrude
- Have your dog sit in front of you
- Show your dog you have the treat by bringing it to his nose
- Slowly bring the treat down from the dog's nose to the middle of the front paws
- Start pulling outwards, moving the treat away from him as if drawing a line along the floor
- Watch for the dog's armpits touching the floor
- Praise or click your clicker to mark the moment the armpits touch the floor and the dog is lying down
- Immediately reward the dog with the treat
Important Consideration About Using Treats
When it comes to using treats to lure and reward dogs, it is important to follow important rules. Failure to follow some important guidelines may confuse the dog and create problems. This list will emphasize some important considerations for helping you succeed in your reward-based training.
The Importance of Selecting Treats
Some dog owners at times claim their dog is not motivated by food. In this case, a little bit of experimenting does not hurt. Nowadays, pet stores are quite stocked up with a vast array of dog training treat brands. After some experimenting, owners are often surprised about how their once believed finicky dog starts drooling buckets of saliva! Soft, bite-sized treats are the perfect recipe for a fun dog training session.
The Importance of Timing
It is very important that you reward the moment the wanted behavior takes place. If you are training your dog to sit of lie down, make sure you reward the moment the dog's rear or elbows touch the floor. If you happen to reward your dog as it is getting up from sitting or lying down, he will believe you are rewarding the actual act of getting up. To put your dog up for success, make sure you reward immediately.
The Importance of Praising
Regardless of what you are trying to teach, make sure you verbally praise before delivering the treat. With time, praise will become a reward itself because the dog has learned to pair it with treats. This will turn quite helpful when you will move on to a variable schedule.
The Importance of Fading Treats
During the initial stages of learning, when the dog is basically in the acquisition phase, a continuous reinforcement schedule is a must. This means you will deliver treats for every correct response.
Once the dog is acquainted with the behavior, you can then start rewarding on a variable schedule. On a variable schedule your dog gets rewarded after an unpredictable number of responses. This makes the process of phasing out treats easier and your dog eager to work since he never knows when the reward is coming (think slot machine!).
Generally, you can start shifting to a variable schedule once the command is on cue and your dog is 80% reliable at performing the command.
Make sure you do so gradually so to avoid frustration. If you drastically cut on the treats or you give them too far apart, your dog may lose interest or get frustrated. For example, start off by giving the treat every third sit, every second sit, every fifth sit and so forth in a random manner. Another great way to fade treats is by rewarding only the fastest and best sits by using a differential reinforcement of excellent behaviors.
The Importance of Consistency
Consistency is of foremost importance when it comes to training dogs. If you are using treats to reward wanted behaviors, make sure you do not use them to reward unwanted ones.
For instance, if you want to stop your dog from jumping, make sure you praise and treat when your dog has all four feet on the floor and never when he is jumping. With time, your dog will learn which behavior is more advantageous. The behavior of sitting nicely should, therefore, consequently increase while jumping should gradually extinguish.
Benefits of Dog Treats
As seen, a dog training treat can accomplish many goals: motivate your dog, lure him into a behavior and reward for a wanted behavior. Best of all, dog treats make training fun and keep dogs eager to work for you.
While treats are an excellent way to start training, keep in mind that it's important to fade them as training progresses. There are also many life rewards you can put to use. Variety is the spice of life!
As training advances, try to find rewards other than a dog training treat; you will be pleasantly surprised at the number of things your dog is willing to work for!
Here is a brief video that shows how to use dog treats to gain trust from a fearful dog...
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If you need help with teaching your dog obedience commands or just trying to understand dog behavior, I recommend this dog behavior and obedience training guide.
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