Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How to Succeed at Treat Training with Your Dog

By Tamara McRill

Have you been trying to positively reinforce good behavior in your dog by treat training, but it just isn't working? The problem could be in your technique. Simply giving your pet a bit of food without these best practices could be just a waste of both your time. I know, because I've been there and had to refine my technique.

Eliminating these common treat training mistakes from your routine will help you get your dog sitting pretty.

1. Sub-Par Treats

Dogs may have a reputation for eating any and everything, but any old treat may not be enough to motivate them to pay attention. My three dogs each have treats they just don't like. Dusty won't take anything that isn't meaty. Although most treats for training purposes should ideally come from your pet's daily food allowance, make sure what you are using as a lure or reward is actually a dog treat your pet desires. Otherwise there is no incentive for them to complete a desired action.

2. You Don't Mix It Up Enough

That's not to say you should be giving your dog his favorite snacks every time—you shouldn't. It's best to try and alternate treats so your pet isn't sure when her favorite will appear. My dogs love to be rewarded with CANIDAE Snap Biscuits, but I use a variety of treats so they stay focused on the task and don't get bored. In addition to the Snap Biscuits, CANIDAE also offers Snap-Bits and TidNips in three different flavors, so I have a lot of great options!

3. Lack of Praise

Every time you reward your pet with a treat, you should also positively reinforce the reward with genuine praise. This does double-duty by further establishing that they are doing good and placing a higher value on your praise, as it will be associated with a food reward. Soon enough, you'll be able to sometimes substitute praise as a reward, instead of a treat.

4. Always Using Food

It can be shocking, but sometimes your dog just isn't hungry. So, along with treats and praise, be sure to mix in some play and petting as rewards. This way your pet is still eager to please when they are full, because it could be some other happy action they receive.

5. Treat is Always Visible

Keeping food in sight as a lure is fine at the beginning steps of training, but it should be hidden once you move on to rewarding after good behavior. Always having a treat in hand while teaching your dog tricks, can erroneously give your pet the impression that the treat itself is the signal to do something, instead of the actual command.

6. Rewarding No Matter What

Guilty. Even when they refuse to do what is asked of them, my dogs can still sometimes score a tasty morsel. It has something to do with those beguiling doggy eyes and cute antics. It's just easier to toss them the treat, instead of look at their sad faces when I put it back. Of course that negates any progress made in training, because they think they'll get the snack no matter what they do.

7. Inconsistency

Not being consistent in your training is begging for failure. On your part, that is. Your pet can't be expected to remember and follow cues that are sometimes rewarded (even if it is just praise) and sometimes not.

Have you had success treat-training your dog?

Photo by Audreyjm529

Read more articles by Tamara McRill


  1. Oh I am guilty of number 6 as well. Sometimes she gets a treat just for looking pretty, and she can't help that, you know? :) Great tips!

  2. Those are some great tips. And it usually does work to use treats to train your dog but it all takes just plain repetition. It is a fun thing to do to train your dog.

    1. Thanks, Marg! It is fun, isn't it? The dogs get so excited and happy that I think it rubs off on me.

  3. Great tips, Tamara. However, number 4 doesn't apply to Jake, my Rat Terrier. He is always hungry. : )


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