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Dog Training Tips: Using Treats Properly

Learn the right way to use treats to train dogs.

Positive reinforcement and treats are a great way to train your dog. But what happens when the training only works when you have treats in your pocket?

How Not to Become a Trained Treat-Giver

Sometimes the trainer can become the trainee when it comes to teaching commands to dogs. Your dog may easily train you to give her treats by only agreeing to obey commands when treats are present. The goal in training your dog is to get her to follow commands with or without treats. The following steps can help your dog learn to follow commands consistently, whether you have a treat in your hand or not.

  1. When first training your dog, give treats consistently. When you are beginning to train your dog to follow a command or do a trick, give a treat reward every time she follows the command. This helps reinforce the proper behavior.
  2. Consider using a clicker along with the treat. A clicker is a great reinforcing tool to solidly ingrain a positive behavior in your dog. It's easy to use and generally produces amazing results in a short time. The key is to click while your dog is doing the desired behavior, and then immediately reward her with a treat. A Pavlovian-type response will develop that will greatly facilitate future training sessions. Click here for a step-by-step guide to clicker training your dog.
  3. Add praise with your treat rewards. Dogs are social creatures that love affection. Kind words, petting, adoration, and praise (which don't require storage room in your pocket) are also great rewards for your dog. Combined with a food treat, praise is a powerful tool that will help you wean away from always having to give your dog a treat.
  4. Reward randomly. After your dog has learned a command, begin to reward her randomly for obeying it. At times, use a treat and verbal praise. Other times, use verbal praise and some petting. Still other times, just provide a simple "Good girl" or "Yes." If you notice your dog's attention beginning to wane, give a treat more often. If you are using a clicker, incorporate this into the training, but remember to click first before the treat or praise is given.

Use Healthy Treats for Dog Training

Many dog treats contain sugar, other additives, or a high amount of fat, and they may not be healthy for your dog. Choose a healthy treat, and keep in mind that treats have calories, so providing too many may result in your dog gaining weight.

Many dogs will be happy with being given pieces of their daily kibble as a treat, especially if it is offered with love and praise. You can allot a certain amount of your dog's daily feed for the purpose of treats.

Tip: Place a certain portion of your dog's daily food into a baggie to be used as treats. If you go over the daily treat allotment, cut back a bit on the amount of kibble you give for dinner. If you don't use them all, add them to her dinner or give them as a lunch. Be sure to keep the meals balanced by considering how much time you will be spending that day giving treats.

With time and consistency, your dog will soon learn to follow commands easily. Intermittent treats should be given to keep the behavior reinforced, but always remember to try and praise your dog because something as simple as "Good girl!" is an easy thing to say, and it means so much to your dog.

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