Whether he’s a new puppy mastering the complicated procedure of “sit,” or an older guy who has successfully completed his first obstacle course, or just a regular dog following you around the yard waiting for play time, dogs behave better when they are rewarded for their good deeds. Far beyond the training basics, dogs need to be reminded that they are good guys trying to do good, and they will try more often and a little harder.
When training a puppy one of the fastest ways to get his attention is with food. Little treat baggies go a long way in the training process. Often just guiding their bodies with the direction you take the food can help them achieve a new command. Older dogs are equally deserving of food rewards.
In our household, we have two designated treat times, one after the morning bathroom run and one right before bed. We do this because there are four dogs who have landed here somehow or another and treat time is simply a way for us to establish good behavior and remind them of the rules. It’s a time to give each individual his chore of the day, whether that’s just sitting and waiting regardless of what everyone else is doing, or remembering how to leave our fingers intact when they take the treat, it is a recommended routine for anyone with more than one dog.
Commands, whether they are trick related or behavioral, take practice for a dog to retain their performance. Once they’ve been trained it can be easy for them to slip into a casual attitude, and the same is true for owners. If you haven’t given your pup a command in six months and then randomly throw it at him, he may not respond the same way he used to. Using treats to randomly reinforce good behavior keeps him on his toes.
What kind of treats work best for your dog depends on your pup’s preferences. Most dogs love those little soft treats that come in beef and sausage flavors. However if your guy is a canned food loyalist, you may want to consider hard treats to give them the health benefits associated with crunching their food. Dogs that crunch their food or treats tend to have better breath and healthier teeth and gums.
A dog who has outgrown his puppy exuberance for the treat reward may need a special set of training treats. A dog can get bored with the same treat for the same command and you may find his attention beginning to wander about. The rabbit in the yard may be much more enticing than that bone in your hand. Save the same old bone for regular treats and pull out something a little extra special for training treats. Even cut up hot dogs and cheese can make a wonderful training aid when he is no longer excited about the upcoming treat. Re-establishing his interest will make the training and rewarding much easier on both of you.
A recent study on the quality of dog food and dog treats suggests that the healthiest pet treat for dog is actually table scraps. This of course conflicts with what many veterinarians recommend. This is a decision that each individual dog owner really should make for themselves after reviewing the facts. Most pet food and treat companies use chemical treatments in their products that are the equivalent of poison. Table scraps have a tendency to put weight on dogs and encourage begging. The best advice is to read your packaging, do some research, and decide for yourself.
When rewarding your dog with a treat, it’s best to encourage him to leave your fingers on your hand. Nobody enjoys a dog who takes his treats so enthusiastically that he leaves teeth marks on the fingers. Teaching him a firm “take nice” command and wrapping the treat firmly in your fist can help him slow down and distinguish the difference between where your hand ends and his treat begins. Never tease your dog with the treat. Dangling the treat just out of his reach and asking him if he’s ready will encourage him to snap fingers as quickly as making him chase your hand to retrieve the treat. Sitting nicely and calmly and quietly he should be able to gently retrieve the treat from you without causing bodily harm.
Even the best behaved dog in the world needs the occasional reminder to behave well and he will get rewarded. Treats are not just for training. Even if your dog can do back flips to earn his treats, it’s okay to give him one just for sitting or lying down nicely on command.
Keep treats special. Overdoing it on the treats not only adds the pounds around his waistline, but sends him the message that he will get them for just about anything including breathing. Overloading your pup with treats removes his motivation for earning them. Depending on the dog, a loss of motivation to earn his treats may result in a loss of motivation to listen to you. The idea is to keep him guessing a little bit. If he’s never completely sure whether he will be treated or not he is more apt to listen well in the hopes of receiving a tasty tid-bit.
Accidental over-treating can occur when there is more than one person in the household of treat giving age. Be aware of how often other people in the house are dishing out the goodies, especially if you notice a few additional pounds on your dog. It’s good to have everyone involved so that there is equality among humans in your dog’s eyes, but having three people involved twice a day is six treat sessions.
Utilizing treats properly can add a great deal to your dog’s happiness and good behavior well beyond the training stage. They are simple reminders and rewards for good behavior that encourage him to continue behaving well. And who doesn’t want that?