16th July 2015
How often have you all heard that statement? He will not take or work for treats!
What and how we treat dogs is extremely important if we are using treats to shape behaviour or reward the dog for its efforts in training.
In order to work with treats we have to find out what motivates the dog and which treats the dog likes best. Many owners decide for themselves what treat the dog likes best. You should experiment with a variety of treats and let your dog tell you what they like best. Let them have the choice. If you experiment over a few days with different treats the dog will soon tell you which ones he likes the best.
Basic Guidelines for Working with Treats
- Do not train your dog soon after feeding! If your dog is full it might not be as interested.
- Keep training sessions short & fun for the both of you. If you enjoy them your dog will too. Sessions can be only a few minutes long and be done 3-4 times per day.
- In the beginning when the dog is learning you should reward every time for the correct behaviour, this is continual reinforcement.
- End on a positive note. If your dog is having difficulty there is no hurry, go back to a more enjoyable stage and resume later.
- When the dog finally learns and performs the correct behaviour it should be rewarded by jackpot and lots of sincere praise and encouragement. Let your dog know that you are proud that it has done so well.
- Remember dogs learn at different rates and that things should not be hurried.
Be systematic in the environment you choose to train in and build their confidence gradually and carefully through changing environments.
- Treats are Bribes: Bribes and reinforcers are not the same thing. A bribe is produced before the desired behaviour and a reinforcer is produced after the behaviour. Many people show the dog a treat before asking it to do something. This is not the most effective way.
- Training with treats is only good for teaching tricks-not for real training: False. Do dogs instinctively know the difference between tricks and real training? Are behaviours trained without food more reliable?
- Treats do not work on aggressive dogs: Food has to be used wisely in situations with reactive or aggressive dogs. Dogs have often been put into situations where they react and then some have tried to distract them by luring them away with treats. If your dog crosses over threshold then food will not suddenly make it a positive experience.
Kongs and other Food Dispensing Toys
Enrich your dog’s environment. Food dispensing toys can give dogs a great deal of enjoyment and play a very positive role in helping reduce slight anxiety related disorders. It is a very satisfying and mentally stimulating way for a dog to eat its food.
In well kept zoos and marine parks around the world keepers have used their creativity to good effect in adopting methods that allow the animal to use part of its hunting instincts. Malaysian sun bears have honey and other treats dotted around their enclosures and within logs that allow them to forage. This is very important for an animal’s brain that they are allowed to do this. Not so long ago before environmental enrichment was widely considered, animals were observed to have suffered behavioural problems showing repetitive type behaviours associated with stress.
Simple activities like hiding food around the garden at feeding time can do a lot for your dog’s mental well being. Hiding food in a sealed cardboard box is also very enjoyable and teaches the dog to be a problem solver. Buried food dispensers are also good ways for dogs that instinctively like to dig.
When training with treats you should consider the texture, taste and size of the treat. Choose soft treats so that the dog can consume them quickly. If a dog has to chew and crunch its way through a treat it may lessen the impact of the reward. Small moist treats are best for training purposes. Pre made commercial treats contain things in them that are not usually very good for your dog.
Common Mistakes When Training
- A lack of commitment- We live in an age of quick fixes and this places a lot of stress on our dogs. Take your time and be patient.
- Irregular routines: Dogs need consistency when learning something new. Training once per week does not really help your dog to learn quickly.
- Frustration: This is a common cause to dog-owner related problems. If your dog sees that you are irritated the training may be a negative association for the dog.
- There are many physical reasons why a dog can refuse or develop a negative association with treats. Stomach pains and back pain are common. Negative verbal feedback from the handler or the use of harsh words and tone can destroy any good association with treats.
Treats and Training Classes.
Is your dog stressed with a new class and all the strange dogs around or are classes over crowded?
Dogs can be frustrated at seeing so many dogs and not be able to interact with them. Lots of commands and demands placed on a dog is stressful. Sit and Down positions make a dog feel vulnerable if the owner is acting erratically, people often tell their dog to Sit or Down in times of stress. It does not work and is counter productive.
If we are using treats to help in a problem area we have to first learn how to best manage the behaviour before trying to change it. Changing behaviour will take time. Your main goal at first is to minimise the likelihood of that behaviour occurring as much as possible. Take the time to find activities that the dog enjoys and make the time so that the dog is able to indulge in them. Many cases of problem behaviours can be due to under stimulation. Stress can make dogs feel nausea. There are times when the dog can vomit the treats back up when their stomachs are irritated. Dogs can also throw up from emotional excitement. This can also be caused by motion sickness after a journey to the class by car. It is not too difficult to notice if our dog is becoming stressed or is overly stressed.
Can you eat, train and concentrate and focus when you are overly stressed? It is not so different for our dogs. For those dogs that do love and are motivated by treats there is much more that we can do if we just use our imagination more giving them something that they will enjoy to the max. This will improve your training sessions and help you and your dog get the most from them.