Using treats in training is just bribing the dog
Using treats in training can cause a bit of controversy as it is often seen as bribing the dog and once the food is no longer present, the dog no longer works for their owner and only does it because there is food present.
This is not true! Dog’s learn through association the more they are rewarded for a behaviour occurring, the more they will offer it and once it is a learned behaviour it becomes a conditioned response.
By using treats you are reinforcing the behaviours that you want to see, and the dog will quickly pick up what they are being rewarded for.
I always compare using treats as your dog’s payment. The more you pay the more you have in your account and the more money you can draw out when you are working together with your dog.
I always compare this back to humans if you went to work and did not get paid would you go back to work? Highly unlikely!
How do you feel if you go to work, work hard and your boss gives you a huge bonus on top of your pay packet? It makes you feel like you have done a really good job and you are likely to work a little harder to try getting that bonus again.
Whereas how would you feel if you go to work, work hard and your boss doesn’t pay you a penny then starts shouting at you, getting frustrated with you asking you to work even harder without any prospect of getting that penny anytime soon. It will more than likely make you feel completely rubbish and not really want to work as hard and potentially even look for another job!
When you begin your training you are going to be rewarding more frequently and you can use a part of your dog’s daily diet for their treats so they are earning what they eat so it doesn’t have to always be really high value rewards.
Timing is crucial with treats so they are used as rewards and letting your dog know that they are on the right track. A reward does not mean it is the end of the exercise or the end of work but it is just a boost for the dog that they are doing well.
Do not be tempted to use food as a bribe especially if working around distraction it is tempting to waft the treat under the dog’s nose so they follow the food. If this is the scenario they are not learning anything. It is important to let your dog see the distraction that you are working around and that they are working alongside you and you are rewarding them for good choices.
Once your dog has a good understanding of the cues you are using you can change the ratio of treat giving and use it less frequently and use it to maintain good behaviour.
Some dogs may not take treats whilst they are out and about and it is worth looking at why this is the case. Is it because they are excited or that they may be so over excited they simply cannot think about taking a treat? It is also worth looking at the environment that you are working in with your dog and look at your treats too. There is so much choice out there and it is great to explore with your dog to see what they like to work for. If they struggle it can be good to introduce your training out in your garden so that they learn what treats are all about and choose a quiet location to begin with.
Pay well It is important to pay well as you want your dog to choose you over everything else that is out there especially when it comes to getting a reliable recall.
I tend not to completely wipe out treats ever but they do become harder to get as the behaviour becomes more conditioned. Otherwise you can sometimes see behaviours diminish over time as the dog knows that they will not get anything even if they do perform the behaviour that you are asking them to.
I think treats are super important in training and a great way to build a great relationship and bond together with your dog.
If you want any help or advice about treat giving please do not hesitate to ask any questions.