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How to Properly Use Treats in Training

By Jason Wright

March 1, 2021

Establishing Treats as a Reward

Before we start teaching behaviours like “sit”, “down” or “come” we start by building a communication system through the use of verbal markers. We like to use the word “yes” to mark a behaviour and then follow with a treat. When charging the mark we say “yes” and then deliver a treat. We continue this process until yes becomes very meaningful to the dog. (hundreds of repetitions).  

The word “yes” is now a conditioned reinforcer. Now that we have conditioned the word “yes” we can now use this to mark behaviours that we like and want more of.  For example if we lure our dog to sit, we would say “yes” at the same moment that the dogs butt hits the ground and then follow that mark with a treat within 1 second.

Using Treats for Positive Reinforcement

Positively reinforcing your dog with treats is a great way to create a dog who wants to learn. It creates a dog who is engaged and motivated. Training should be fun for your dog! Using treats is also the easiest way to teach behaviour.

What If My Dog Doesn’t Like Treats?

Your goal should be to increase your dogs desire for food.

Some steps you can take to get your dog more interested in food is to use the dogs breakfast and dinner as their training treats or feed their meals from your hand. Another step you can take is to stop giving your dog random treats throughout the day or free feeding. If your dog has constant access to food then they will lose interest overtime. When training it is best to make sure you start in a neutral environment where there aren’t a lot of distractions.

Which Treats Should You Use?

We like to us cut up chicken, steak, cheese or the dogs kibble. The size of the treat you will use will depend on the size of  you will use will depend on the size of your dog. For dogs 100 plus pounds we use a treat that is about the size of a thumbnail and for medium to small dogs it  will be half that size or smaller. The treat shouldn’t be so big OR chewy that your dog takes a long time to swallow it. Your dog should be able to flick the treat back and reengage in training.

Don’t Overuse Treats

There are two reasons not to overuse treats.

  1. We don’t want our dogs to get fat.
  2. We do not want our dog to rely on treats to perform.

Treats should be faded out of training as soon as your dog has a good understanding of the behaviour you are teaching. For example If we started by using a verbal command followed by a lure then the next step would be to use a gesture without food in our hand. We say the command, follow with a gesture then mark and reward the behaviour.

The iTK9 Way

We love to use food in our training. We find that it is the best way to motivate dogs and get the behaviours we want. It helps create a healthy working relationship with all of the dogs we train. Using food also makes training enjoyable for your dog. Along with treats we use many other motivational techniques during our board and train programs.

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