To treat or not to treat?
by Nathalie Fraser // October 2017
To treat or not to treat?
At our classes we show owners how to teach their dogs new things using rewards, most often in the form of a tasty treat (depending on the dog’s preference, this could be substituted for something like a toy if an individual dog isn’t particularly food-motivated). A concern we hear quite often from owners is that they’ll have to carry around a bag or pocket full of treats for the rest of their dog’s life – however this isn’t necessarily the case!
We would always advise using a treat as a reward when your dog is learning a new behaviour, as we want to make sure we pay them off well for doing a good job – just like you getting a wage for going to work! However once your dog really knows how to do something, for example a ‘sit’, reliably responding to you every time you ask, you can start to gradually decrease the frequency with which you give your dog a treat for doing this. Instead of asking your dog to sit five times and rewarding every time, give them a reward only 4 times out of 5 to begin with, still giving them lots of praise for the sit you don’t reward with a treat. You can gradually offer treats less and less, still rewarding every 5-10 sits and every so often giving your dog a higher value ‘jackpot’ reward – this will keep them guessing and they’ll be likely to respond to you every time just in case that’s the time they get an amazing reward!
When you’re out on walks, instead of using food rewards as you progress with your dog’s training you can instead use the environment around you. If your dog does an amazing recall back to you away from another person or dog, they can be rewarded by being allowed to go and meet them if it’s appropriate to do so, or if they walk on a nice loose lead next to you they can be given the freedom to go sniff at some trees. Often your dog would actually prefer this type of reward when they’re out for a walk as in the moment these types of things tend to be more appealing to them than food!
The more you practice training and your dog learns what’s expected from them in all different types of scenarios, the more you’re likely to find that your dog will start to think for themselves and make the right choices, offering up a behaviour that’s proven rewarding for them in the past without you having to give them a specific cue. You can always go back to using treats more when you feel it’s necessary such as when teaching something new or progressing something they already know onto something more difficult!
If you’d like some more guidance on putting this into practice or just want to have fun teaching your dog some new things, why not come along to our classes? You can drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more!