To Treat or Not To Treat

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Eric Gillaspy CPDT-KA

 

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Thinkstock

To treat or not to treat, that is a question that I get asked very frequently by my clients.  How often should I give her a treat?  When should I give her a treat?  What should I use for treat rewards?  Isn’t using food to train cheating?  I like to use a simple but very general formula.  Food should first be a lure, then a reward and then a random reward.

The main reason that I use food rewards in some of my training is that dogs don’t have to learn to like food.  They usually love to eat.  There are lots of ways to reward your dog.  Food, toys, playtime, sniffing a new area, and anything else your pup likes can be used as a motivator or a reward.  Food rewards can sometimes be the easiest way to reinforce a behavior that you like.

Treats or food should be used first as a lure.  You can use it to get your dog into a position like “sit” or “down”.   When you are using a food lure to get your dog into a sit, pretend it is a magnet on the end of your dog’s nose.  Keep the treat close to their nose.  If you move the food up, your pup’s rear end will go down.  Praise with saying “good sit” and reward with a yummy treat.  Once your dog is sitting about 80 percent of the time under the same circumstances, you can assume that your dog has learned the behavior.

When your pup is responding quickly to just the verbal cue, start to use an intermittent schedule of reinforcement.  Use food as a reward every once in a while.  If your pup only gets a reward randomly, they will try much harder.  Be a slot machine for your pup, not a vending machine.  If she starts to get a random reward, the behavior will become much stronger.

You may start to see your pup “offer” the behavior.  She may start to walk up to you and sit, down, or whatever other behavior it is that you have rewarded heavily.  Make sure to only reward those behaviors that you want your pup to do again.

Some dogs have sensitive stomachs or weight control issues.  If this is the case with your pup, use a portion of their own daily food for a reward.  They can work for their dinner so to speak.  Some of my clients use carrots as a food rewards and their pups love them.

Using food isn’t cheating or bribing.  It is an easy way to motivate your dog.  A reward should be a positive consequence for a desired behavior.  There are lots and lots of ways to reward your dog for a good behavior.  Treats are just one of the easiest.

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