Be Generous With Treats! Why It Works
Your dog does something you like, and you toss him a nice smelling treat. His focus immediately shifts to center completely on the little tidbit, anxiously gobbling it up. Your pet’s face seems to almost brighten at the mere mention of ‘treat’!
That is enough for many pet owners; they are satisfied just to see their beloved ‘furkids’ happy! But- much more can be accomplished with that simple treat. Your dog will be just as happy, and you will find a sense of overwhelming accomplishment.
Reward Based Training
What if I told you treats and praise are the basis for one of the absolute biggest training methods today? Would you believe me if I said there are trainers out there that earn hundreds of thousands of dollars annually based off of this simple theory? Using this, people have trained dogs to perform advanced skateboarding stunts, flawlessly race through world class agility courses, even perform tricks, like backflips, most humans wouldn’t even consider attempting, and much, much more.
Offering Doggy Incentive
That theory is called ‘Positive Reinforcement Dog Training’. It means, basically, to reinforce a desired behavior by the addition (positive indicating addition, not ‘good’) of something, in this case enjoyable, for the dog.
See- no matter how much we want to believe it, our dogs aren’t going to do anything ‘just to satisfy us’. They need incentive, drive to perform. For some dogs, that incentive is attention, praise. Other dogs (and maybe those as well) are food (treat) driven. Some dogs are toy driven, and will go through great lengths for that rope toy, or the game of ‘tug-of-war’.
You need to offer your dog a reason to expend energy doing something, or he simply won’t. If you really think about it, the basic psychology is absolutely no different from human beings.
If you use treats as a reward, the dog will begin to form associations not only between the reward and the activity (your goal), but the reward and you, the owner! The same is true for enjoyable walks, games, etc.
Positive reinforcement training helps strengthen pet-owner relationships, which is one reason why it is preferred to many punishment related techniques.
Something to Focus On
You might consider freezing peanut butter in a ‘Kong’ the night before a long day at work, or investing in mentally challenging treat ‘games’. Let your dog have something to do while you are you are gone! This can help decrease or even prevent separation anxiety from forming.
On the other hand, be careful not to associate treats or rewards with you leaving!
The instinctual food drive most dogs possess is very instinctual. Beyond the three basic drives any intelligent being possesses (sustenance, reproduction, self preservation), dogs (Canines in general) once had to work very hard for their meals, expending a great amount of energy. It is believed that only certain members of a canine family unit were allowed to consume the most desirable parts of a kill; others rarely had the opportunity to share in those portions.
Of course our pets are going to strive for that tasty morsel, going through great lengths to receive it!
1. Some people say training with treats is fine for simple tricks, but not for ‘real’ training.
First off, what exactly would you consider ‘real training’? Is potty or recall training ‘real training’? If so, those two are best reinforced with the addition of a treat reward (and praise). Basic obedience (sit, stay, lie down) methods today suggest treats as rewards also.
The only supporters of this idea would probably be ‘old school’ trainers, and those they teach, recommending excessive use of positive punishment (the addition of an undesirable or uncomfortable stimulus to curve behavior). Though these ideas were once supported, there is a reason overuse of these methods is frowned upon among the general scientific community today.
2. Dogs should work not for food rewards, but simply to please you.
Would humans, or anything else, just work to satisfy others? No; in the end, they need to get something out of it, if only self satisfaction. Absolutely nothing is ever given completely for free.
Praise can be (and should) used as a reinforcer! Depending on the dog, breed, and trainer, sometimes that is all that is needed; attention. Still, the dog is getting something, isn’t it? Many owners expect their pets to do something for them just because they want it that way; it’s probably not going to happen.
Try not to overuse ‘treats’ if your goal is training. They might eventually lose their ‘magical value’ quality if given constantly.
To help establish associations, reward your dog as close to immediately after the desired behavior as possible. Wait too long, and your dog might associate the reward with something else. The ‘dog clicker’ was invented (first used with dolphins) for this very reason- to help ‘bridge the gap’.
For more difficult tricks, such as many agility tricks, consider using a ‘high value reward’ as appropriate.
Most pet stores carry ‘training rewards’ packages or strong smelling, tiny treats. It is common to find packages of 500 treats a piece! These are great for training!
Consider researching the nutrition of the ingredients used to compose the treats you use. Not to single out China, but Chinese manufacturers especially tend to incorporate surprising amounts of dangerous metals and other ingredients in their pet food/treats. Fewer laws regulate pet food manufacturing in many Asian countries, as opposed to America.