Training dogs with treats: How to reinforce good behavior the right way

training dogs with treats
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When it comes to training dogs with treats, there's more of an art to it than you might think. Believe it or not, there's a fine line between treat training a dog in a way that rewards them for positive behavior versus dishing out those tasty tidbits in the form of a bribe. The good news is, we've outlined everything you need to know in this guide to ensure you treat train in a way that gets the best out of your buddy.

Training dogs with treats is one of the quickest and most effective ways to train your dog as those little morsels help to keep them on track and learn the type of behavior you expect from them. Each time your dog does what you ask them to do and you reward them with one of the best dog treats, it positively reinforces this behavior in your dog's mind, making it much more likely that they'll repeat it. 

Think of treat training as being a lot like picking up your pay check for work. Even if you love your job and can't think of anything else you'd rather be doing, chances are you'd probably stop turning up if you stopped getting paid, right? Well, it's just like that for your dog too. Treats are their 'pay check', it's the incentive they need to keep showing up every day and doing what you're asking them to do.

To help make training your dog with treats a total walk in the park, we've compiled a handy list of tips and tricks in line with best practice to make sure your dog masters what it is you're asking them to do in no time flat. Let's take a look... 

What is the best treat for training a dog?

When it comes to choosing treats for training, we recommend you select ones that are small, easy to carry and quick for your dog to chew and swallow. This means you'll be able to keep up a higher rate of reinforcement, which will help your dog stay motivated and on track.

Consider using two types of treat, a common, low calorie, one for frequent use and a higher ‘value’ one for extra special rewards, or to revive interest in a flagging dog. These more interesting treats may also come in handy if you’re training in an area rich in exciting smells and sights – it will keep the dog’s attention fixed on the task at hand. 

train a dog with treats

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How to train a dog with dog treats

To get the most of out your training, you want to make sure you know exactly how to train your dog with treats. Afterall, you don’t want to accidentally reward the wrong type of behavior! 

Consider these handy tips to get the most out of your dog's training session:

1. Don't bring the treats out too early

If you're standing close to the treat jar of you're holding the treats in plain sight of your dog, it's likely that they'll think they're about to get one - something you want to avoid until your dog has achieved the task that you've set.

Try and keep the treats in your pocket and every time your dog achieves their goal, pull one out and reward them. If you're asking them to do something that you know they find hard, you may feel that rewarding them for getting something half right is worth it as this will often be the encouragement they need to master the behavior in its entirety.

2. Remove distractions

Choice of location when training is important, so if your dog is easily distracted, begin training in a quiet place to get some reinforcement in before moving on to a busier locale.

For example, if you have a decent sized backyard, you might practice walking them on a lead around that area first before you try taking them to the local park. Similarly, you may wish to desensitize them to certain loud sounds by playing a quiet recording of those sounds at home before you take them out into the real world where those sounds will be present. 

how to train a dog with treats

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3. Reward your dog promptly

This is especially important when introducing a new command, so that they associate the treat with the action they just performed. Don’t give a treat to a dog displaying unwanted behavior, such as jumping up in excitement, as this will reinforce the wrong ideas.

4. Use verbal encouragement

While treats are definitely important, most dogs also respond really well to praise, so we recommend you use both to get the best results. When you dish out the treat, say 'good boy' or 'good girl' in an enthusiastic voice so that they know they've done a good job, this will energize them and make it more likely that the positive behavior will be repeated.

5. Hold the treat close to your dog's nose

Treats can be used as a guide for a few commands, such as sitting, laying down, and rolling over. Hold the treat close to your standing dog’s nose, and raise it up and back toward their ears. The dog will naturally raise their head to follow it, and their haunches will lower toward the ground. 

Let them have the treat when they’ve assumed the sitting position, all the while repeating the command. They’ll get the idea pretty quickly, and the treat makes it more fun for the dog, making them more likely to learn faster.

training dogs with treats: Dog owner gives Samoyed treats

(Image credit: Getty Images)

6. Consider a clicker

Once the desired behavior is well ingrained in your dog, and they reliably perform it on command, you can begin to phase out the treats, not giving them every time and eventually not giving them at all. 

A clicker can come in handy to keep the reinforcement going without feeding, but even if there are no treats coming, just a bit of fuss and attention, the dog will not stop performing the desired actions.

7. Never bribe your dog

You might be wondering what the difference is between a reward and a bribe, so let's briefly explore that. Basically, when you dish out a treat as a reward, you're only revealing the treat once your dog has done what you want them to do. They do what you ask without knowing whether there's going to be a treat in it for them and then are pleasantly surprised when they do get positive reinforcement in the form of food.

A bribe, on the other hand, is when your dog won't do what you're asking them to do and you show them a piece of food in order to get them to complete the task. We strongly encourage you to never use treats in this way as you pup will likely start refusing to do anything you ask them to do unless they see the food first, which is something you definitely don't want! 

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