Canines learn to comply with their owner’s commands through a reward system. While they instinctively want to please their owners, they are driven to do so by the chance they might receive a reward for their compliance. This has proven to be an effective training aid for nearly all dogs. Essentially, if a particular behavior results in a treat, your pooch is more likely to display that same behavior in the future.
It’s important to understand the role of food during the training process. This includes when to provide treats and how to gradually wean your pooch from expecting them. Below, we’ll explore these issues in more detail.
The Most Powerful Motivator
Your canine enjoys food instinctively. While he looks forward to receiving your praise and enjoying other treats (e.g. going for a walk), nothing can take the place of food as a behavioral motivator. This is the reason most professional trainers encourage owners to integrate some type of edible treats into training sessions. They represent one of the best methods for reinforcing desired behaviors.
A lot of owners avoid using food because they’re worried their dogs might reach a point where they expect a reward for compliance. That is, they’re not complying as much as they are working for a payoff. While this is a possibility, owners can prevent it from happening by first recognizing when a reward becomes a payoff.
Using Treats As Rewards
When you give your canine a treat for responding correctly to your command, you are rewarding him for his obedience. In a way, the food represents a gift. It reinforces his behavior and encourages him to do likewise in the future.
There is a fine line between using food as a reward and relying upon it as a payoff. That line is crossed when your dog refuses to obey and you offer him a treat to coax his compliance. If you’re able to recognize the difference between these two dynamics, you can take steps to prevent this change in perception.
You should eventually wean your canine from expecting a reward each time he successfully responds to your commands. For example, in the beginning, provide his favorite morsel each time he complies. After a week, provide it every two or three times. Then, give him a reward every four or five times. Gradually, you’ll reach a point where you can expect his obedience without the need to provide a treat.
Other Methods To Encourage Desired Behavior
You can accelerate the weaning process by incorporating other rewards your dog finds appealing. For example, when he responds correctly to your commands, consider taking him for a short walk. Or, spend a few minutes playing with him or brushing his coat. While food will always remain his favorite treat, these alternative rewards remind him that his behavior is consistent with your wishes.
A Few Last Tips Regarding Dog Treats
The type of food items you use can play a key role in their usefulness as a training aid. This is not to suggest your canine will find some treats unappetizing; dogs tend to eat practically anything placed in front of them. Instead, some foods are better for his health and less likely to distract his attention.
First, use small, soft food items. Their size makes it easy to provide them liberally without worrying about your canine’s weight. Moreover, the soft texture prevents them from crumbling on the ground. Otherwise, your canine will spend too much time eating the crumbs.
Second, experiment with different flavors. Even though your canine will eat nearly anything, he’ll likely prefer certain flavors over others. If you identify his favorites, he’ll be easier to motivate.
Third, make sure the food items you provide are consistent with his dietary needs. Rather than giving him pieces of a cookie, use bits of cheese, chicken, and pasta (again, experiment).
As noted earlier, food is a powerful motivator for your dog. The key is to use it properly to help him become a better companion over the long run.
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