But I don’t want to use treats in training!

by Chelsea Martin // October 2017

For anyone who uses food rewards to train our dogs, that phrase is not unfamiliar. Trainers hear it on a regular basis from pet parents who believe they will end up with a dog who is entirely dependent on treats. If used appropriately, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

When I’m told this, I explain to prospective clients that I use food to train new behaviours, because it’s fast and effective, easy to learn, and fun for the dog and owner. But I emphasize that once the dog truly understands and performs a particular behaviour or skill well, they’re weaned off the treats by utilising a schedule of random reinforcement (This really isn’t a schedule at all, but a fancy way of explaining that the dog will be rewarded every now and then— a slot machine effect), as well as incorporating real life rewards such as the being leashed up to go outside for a walk, or hopping into the car to drive to their favourite park.

Alternatively, a concern with using food is that it will cause the dog to gain weight. This is a legitimate matter to raise, and food can create an issue if the dog is already overweight. It’s true that if food reward training is used in abundance a dog can certainly gain weight, just as if I were given a few Cadbury Caramels each time I did something right, I’d soon be complaining that my jeans were too tight. Here are three easy solutions:

  • At mealtime, feed only one half to two thirds of the dog’s usual ration. Use the rest as training treats throughout the day.

  • Cut back on the amount of food the dog gets at mealtimes to compensate for the extra calories they’re getting from training treats. Just make sure the treats used are nutritious.

  • If the dog eats dry food, place 1/3 or so of the meal (subtracted from the regular feeding) in a plastic bag with some chicken or sausage. Seal and store in the fridge overnight. In the morning, remove the chicken or sausage, and you’ll be left with yummy-smelling kibble that’s now a valuable training treat.

It’s true that some dogs are actually more motivated by play or even affection than they are by treats, and when training, you should always use what the dog finds valuable. But because most dogs are very food-motivated, keeping the option for using treats in training open is invaluable.

By coming to classes at Dog School Nottingham, we can show you how to quickly and effectively use lure-reward positive reinforcement training. We will also guide you on how to phase out food rewards and begin to increase use of life rewards.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram and Twitter, we love seeing photos of you and your dogs, and feel free to tag us in any of your training posts.

Instagram: @Dogschoolnotts
Twitter: @Dogschoolnotts

Dogs Trust Dog School Nottinghamshire
Trent Business Centre, Thoroton Road, West Bridgford, Nottingham, NG2 5FT