When training your dog, there are three main points to consider where rewards are concerned. First, do not think of treats as the only reward you can offer. Second, when you do use treats, differentiate them by value to use as needed for different tasks. And, third, use healthy treats, but don’t overuse them, because dogs can easily get overweight, too.
When trying to teach or motivate your pup, don’t get into the habit of always having a treat in your hand. This leads to your dog always looking for a treat, and when there isn’t one, deciding not to obey you. It also means that when there’s an emergency—he’s about to chase the squirrel across the street—you’ll need filet mignon in your hand to have any hope of stopping him. And it probably still won’t work.
Instead, use other motivators such as toys, your affection, privileges (come up on the couch, go outside), etc., as ways to teach him that sit means “please,” and he should sit to get petted, get fed, to go out a door as well as to get a treat. This leads to a polite, well-behaved dog that loves treats but is not obsessed with them.
There are some things dogs love to eat, some things they like a little, and some things they snub. I like grading each dog’s treats, so you know what level of motivation each provides. Here’s an example: piece of kibble, 25 cents; low-end crunchy treat, $1 to $5; freeze-dried liver, $50; bacon, $100.
You can use different levels of treats for different actions. For instance, a dog should sit for free, so he or she certainly should sit for 25 cents. If your dog is afraid of a vacuum, put $50 on it, and he’ll learn to love it. If your dog is afraid of your large, bearded neighbor, she might not take a $1 treat from him, but I bet—if she’s hungry—she’ll grab a $100-treat.
To find out what your dog loves most, give him little tests. I like taking two different treats and putting one treat in each hand. Then I tell the dog to stay and let him smell both treats a couple times (but don’t let him eat any). Then, say, “OK” and see which treat he takes first. You can switch hands and try it a few different ways to make sure he’s definitely choosing one first.
Keep doing this with all his treats, and you’ll soon you’ll know which ones he likes, which ones he loves, and which one will make him fall in love with the mailman.
You can even use kibble as a reward. That’s perfect for everyday training. If you’re going to use other food motivators, then make sure you use healthy ones. Many dogs like carrots, apples, and other fruits and veggies. If you’re going to purchase treats, look for few ingredients and preservatives. Just like with human food, if it doesn’t expire for three years, how nutritional is it? Use products that are pure meat and low in fat, such as dehydrated chicken or beef. Some treats add veggies, and that’s OK as well. My dog loves dehydrated sweet potato treats.
Try to avoid the Pupperoni and other “junk” food sold at grocery stores. It provides little to no nutritional value, and can actually be harmful in the long run. Your dog will like healthy treats just as much if not more if you use them infrequently and always make it a fun game, lesson, or task to get them.
Just remember that you’re trying to teach your dog to listen to you in all circumstances and be a good citizen. Just as you would urge your children to learn with some motivation, you would not continually give them snacks every time they performed a simple task. Keep that in mind, and it will help you be a little more aware of how often you’re feeding your dog. It will also help you establish a better relationship, one built on respect and not based on “show me the money/treat.”
Beverly Ulbrich, “The Pooch Coach,” has been providing expert private dog training and behavioral modification to the SF Bay Area for over 13 years. Seen frequently on TV for her expertise in all things dog related, she also works behind the scenes with dogs for TV, advertising, and movies. Her specialties include dog aggression, fear, and anxiety. Her motto is “Any Dog. Any Problem.” Find out more at PoochCoach.com
Main article photo by: Photo by Tricia-CC