Dog training can be a difficult process to get right. Delicate balances need to be struck between expectation and reward, incentive and instinct. But if you’re worried about spoiling your canine companion by using dog treats in the training process, fear not; treat training is perfectly fine for your dog, especially in the earlier stages of learning to obey. Remember, though, it’s not as simple as handing out snacks for any good deed. Treats need to be used appropriately: it’s important to know when to use them, how to use them, and how many treats are too many. Here is a set of guidelines to help you in this task:
- Getting Started: Treat training is most effective in the early stages of a puppy’s learning process. This is because, unlike praising or petting, receiving a treat is an exciting, tangible incentive. When your dog is first learning commands like “down” or “stay”, he’ll need a very clear incentive like this. For example, you can hold the treat in front of your dog and bring it close to the floor as you say “down.” Once your dog lies down, you can reward him with the treat, repeating this process until he’s learned the command.
- Don’t Overdo It: While it’s smart to use treats to teach your dog commands, make sure not to overdo the treats. When in the learning phase, one dog treat per executed command is acceptable at first, but refrain from letting your dog feast for an action that he will eventually need to learn is expected of him. Not only is this unhealthy, it distracts the dog from making the connection between action and reward. Likewise, you should refrain from over-praising your pet, as this has a similar effect.
- Reducing the Treats: After your dog has learned the commands, only reward him with treats once in a while. He should be expected to perform them correctly, but receiving a treat occasionally helps keep him more interested. During this stage of dog training, a more appropriate regular reward is praise and petting. This gives your dog something to look forward to for obeying and builds the bond between pet and owner stronger than dog treats can.
- Using Treats Wisely: Treats are an important part of the training process and should be used wisely. Remember to always use specially made dog treats and not human food or table scraps. These alternatives are unhealthy for dogs and lack the nutrients that specially made dog snacks do. Also, remember that treats aren’t substitutes for meals. They should never make up more than 10% of a dog’s diet, so be sure not to heap them upon your canine companion for every good deed.
Hint: To avoid giving too many calories in the form of treats, take some of your dog’s daily food allotment to use as treats. Your dog will think that the reward is special just because it comes from you!