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

training dogs with treats
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Training dogs with treats is one of the quickest and most effective ways to train your dog, as it's simply positively reinforcing good behavior. 

Some may think there's a fine line between giving treats as rewards versus outright bribing your dog, but your canine will make quick associations between performing a behavior you like and subsequently getting a treat. Dogs love food, and they love human interaction - turning that into a reward process by keeping a handful of treats in your pocket will speed up your friend's training. 

From the best dog treats to use in your training session to correct practice and perfect location, this guide will help you treat train your dog in no time. 

What is the best treat for training a dog?

The treats you choose need to be small, easy to carry, and easy to swallow. As well as being something the dog is enthusiastic about eating, you need to be able to pocket a small bag, hide them about your person, and not add too much to the dog’s diet by using them. 

Consider using two types of treat, a common, low calorie, one for frequent use – maybe just some of the best dry dog food found in our buying guide – 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

(Image credit: Getty Images)

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

As your dog may associate you being close to the treat jar with getting one so keep treats well out of sight – dogs have an excellent sense of smell, so hiding their presence may not always be possible, but try not to give the impression that you’re going to get the bag out when you’re not.

Remain calm while training, and don’t bring out the treats too early or fuss your dog when it hasn’t achieved the task it has been set. If you’re training something new, reward every step along the way to achieving the goal, just a little bit. Sitting may be new, so getting halfway into position deserves a small treat, saving a bigger or meatier one for when they achieve the complete sit. 

2. Choose a suitable location

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.

how to train a dog with treats

(Image credit: Getty Images)

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

Verbal encouragement should also be given along with the treat, a ‘good’ or ‘yes’ going a long way toward getting the behavior you want.

Everything that precedes the receipt of the treat is reinforced, so having your dog return to you for a treat makes them more likely to come back when called, even if you’re training something else. 

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.