Why use treats in training?
People regularly ask us why do we use treats in training? Many people worry about the calorific intake through using treats. Others worry that it is the same as “bribing” dogs and so are reluctant. This blog aims to take you through the reasons for and against using treats in training!
Our blog on treats talks in depth about the volume and size of treats. It discusses the value of treats to our dogs and how to pick the right treats, use lots of them and still keep your pet nice and trim!
We also discuss the concerns around bribery in our tasty treats blog. It is upsetting that so many people refuse to give their dog a treat in case they bribe them, but so many people even in the UK are still physically abusing their dogs in the name of “training”. Treats are not bribing your dog, they are paying them for work hard done.
But even if they were bribing them, I’d prefer that than hitting a dog any day!
Having treats to hand
We have many people tell us that other trainers have specifically told them not to use treats in training! These “trainers” are unqualified and often very keen to use aversive methods which we won’t use. Read more about our ethos here. The main reason they say to avoid treats is “because you won’t always have treats on you!” These very same “trainers” will regularly recommend training dogs to a whistle – an item you would have to have on you at all times to have your dog respond!!!
(we are more than happy to train with a whistle, this is just an example of the contradictory advice often given around treats.)
But this also highlights the lack of understanding of training and conditioning. During training we do use treats to get our dog to display the desired behaviour. But once a dog knows that behaviour we then use food as a reward AFTER the behaviour. So a dog would perform the behaviour whether or not there was a treat there!
Then once a dog is conditioned to a behaviour you no longer need to reward it all the time. We discuss variable schedules of reinforcement in our Introductory Seminar and throughout training with us as your dog progresses.
Plus we can have treats on us at all times (or almost all!). A great treat bag such as the Doggone Good Rapid Rewards bag is invaluable when training a dog. It gives you easy access to treats, you can store low and high value treats in there and they don’t look too bad!
My dog won’t take treats
This is a very common phrase we hear when introducing food to training. But with the hundreds of dogs we’ve trained we’ve never yet found one who won’t take treats!
We need to figure out what is most valuable to your dog and we also need to pay them appropriately.
I don’t like spiders and if you offered me a pound for walking into a room full of spiders I wouldn’t take it! Whereas if you offered me a million pounds I might think about it!!
We also need to be aware of arousal levels (how full their sink it). If you are very stressed (happy or sad) you aren’t able to concentrate on things you might otherwise enjoy.
I love chocolate cake but if I was locked in that room full of spiders I wouldn’t want to eat cake there! Likewise I wouldn’t want to eat cake whist having an amazing time on a rollercoaster!
Often reluctance to take treats can be caused through anxiety which may have occurred through aversive training or horrible interactions around food (often recommend by aversive “trainers”). To help your dog you can start force-free training and build up their confidence and ability to eat treats and enjoy life more with you!
Treats in training are extremely useful in being obvious and clear to our dogs which behaviours we would like them to repeat in future. There are no real reasons not to use them!