When you start out training your dog, you might be unsure about the best method of training them to learn a new behavior or trick. Should you reward them with treats? We’re here to tell you that positive reinforcement with treats in dog training is not only an extremely effective method to teach your best furry friend new skills, but they’ll love the process of learning!
This is a how-to guide for using treats when training your dog. We’ll explain why you should use treats to train your pooch; how and when to do it; and how to choose the right dog treat for training. We’ve got some great suggestions for treats to try when training your own dog, too!
Why use treats for dog training?
Reward-based dog training, or positive reinforcement, is rooted in science. Through operant conditioning, dogs learn by making an association between a certain behavior and a resulting consequence. For example, with positive reinforcement training, they learn that when they perform the skill you ask, they get a treat.
Now, operant conditioning will also work with punishment-based training. But why on earth would you want to teach your dog with punishment?! Especially when there are other methods that are proven to result in happier, healthier doggos that learn much faster!
Now back to the treats! Think of a dog treat like a paycheck and the skills you’re training your dog to do as a job. It’s only fair that we pay our dogs to do a job well done! You can keep those yucky, flavorless dollar bills though - a dog’s currency is tasty, delicious, lip-smackin’ dog treats!
Here are some reasons to use treats when training dogs:
To reinforce wanted behavior
Like I touched on in the paragraphs above, when you give your dog a treat after they doing something you want them to do (sit, stay, down, come, quiet), they begin to associate that wanted behavior with the yummy treat you give them. In their minds, when they do that thing you want, good things happen.
By reinforcing wanted behaviors with a dog treat, you make it more likely that your dog will repeat the behaviors.
They are quick and easy to use
Now, positive reinforcement doesn’t always have to be done with treats. You can use cuddles, ‘atta boys’, ear scratches, belly rubs, and toys. Anything that your dog loves can be used as a reward. That said, your pup’s favorite thing in the world might be a game of fetch with the tennis ball, but can you imagine rewarding Fido with a game of fetch every time he successfully gives a paw? It would take a week to teach a new trick!
We most often use treats for training because they are easy and most dogs respond to them with extreme enthusiasm every time.
How to use treats in dog training
Let’s explore the different ways to incorporate treats into your training routine:
Use the treats as a lure:
One way to use treats in training is to use them as a lure. No, not on the end of a fishing pole! But, similar concept. You are using the treat to entice your dog to do something. Let’s take training your dog to “sit,” for example. You’ll start out by holding a dog treat close to your dog’s nose. Then, slowly move the treat back, over your dog’s head. Most dogs will follow the treat with their noses and, as their noses go up, their rumps go down.
This technique works well for sit, down, roll over, and many other behaviors.
Reward wanted behaviors:
This is the ‘meat and bones’ of reward-based training. Dog treats are not just a great snack for your furriest family member. They are a way to communicate to your dog that they have done something right. If you use a treat to lure your dog into a sit, give them the treat the very second their butt touches the floor and you say the word “sit.”
This isn’t just for cues, either. When you have guests over for dinner and your dog sits quietly without begging for table scraps - reward that good behavior! If someone comes to the door and your dog doesn’t jump on them or scratch the door - reward that, too.
Use treats to reward and reinforce behaviors you want your dog to repeat.
For teaching focus in new or scary environments:
This is especially useful for fearful or reactive dogs, who may be shy or uncomfortable in certain situations. Training fearful or insecure dogs doesn’t always look like “sit and stay” but instead, involves pet parents learning how to teach their dogs to focus on them when they’re nervous instead of whatever might be scaring them. Treats are exceptionally helpful in these types of situations.
Many times, treats are more interesting than whatever might be scaring a reactive dog.
Be careful not to use treats as a bribe in dog training
The point is to use treats as a reward for desired behavior, not as a tool to get your dog to do something they won’t do until you show them the treat. There is a fine line here!
For example, if you ask your dog to come and they ignore you, do not then go and get a treat and then ask again. That’s not training - that’s bribery!
Instead, train your dog to come when called using treats as positive reinforcement. So they will come when called, in hopes that they might receive a treat, not with the guarantee of a treat.
How to choose the right dog training treat
Now we know why you should use treats when you train your dog. But, what is the best training treat? When there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of dog treats to choose from - how do you choose? There are lots of great choices, but they all have a few things in common.
Look for treats that are:
- Small: You want your dog to be able to eat it quickly and not get distracted from the lesson at hand, so training treats should be small or easy to break apart into smaller pieces.
- Tasty: No dog wants to work for gross treats! Make sure it tastes good or what’s the point?
- Low calorie: Treats can really add on the calories, so look for one that’s low cal so we don’t pack on the pounds.
- Healthy: Look for ingredients like you’d find in your own kitchen and stay away from artificial colors and preservatives. If you wouldn’t eat it, why feed it to your BFF?
Einstein Pets healthy dog treats check all these boxes! They break apart easily into 3-4 perfectly sized training treats. All the five-star reviews tell us dogs love the taste! Each full-sized treat is only ten calories and they’re grain free, all-natural, with no chemicals, fillers, wheat, corn, or soy.
The favorite in my house is Pumpkin Time, crafted in the USA with real pumpkin, cinnamon, and chia! I’ll sit-stay all day, okay!
Will I always need to use treats in dog training?
Absolutely! But, think of it this way - remember, a training treat is a paycheck. Would you want your boss to stop paying you because you start doing a good job? Plus, dogs love treats. Why wouldn’t you want to reward them? In fact, Einstein Pets has 2oz bags of treats that are perfect for tossing into a bag or shoving into your pocket during walks.
Pay your dog enough that they’ll keep “working” for you. But, you definitely won’t have to use as many treats as you did when you were first training your dog.
How many treats can I give my dog during a training session?
Treats shouldn’t make up more than 10% of your dog’s daily diet. Now, a training session does burn extra calories, so use your own discretion. This all will depend on your dog, what treats you end up using, and what other food your dog eats. However, if your dog tends to be pudgy, you end up feeding a lot of treats, or you use high-calorie treats, then reduce your dog’s regular diet accordingly.
How often should I train my dog?
Dogs tend to have short attention spans - especially puppies! So when you’re starting out training, only train your dog for as long as they are able to pay attention. That’s usually only for a few minutes at first and will get longer as you train them more.
That said, aim for training your dog every day if you can. Don’t panic! You only need to do it in 15-20 minute intervals! Work on “sit” while you’re waiting for a pot of water to boil. You can find the time. And, it’s so worth it!
Final thoughts on using treats to train your dog
Whether you’re teaching a new dog old tricks or teaching an old dog new tricks, dog training isn’t always easy. So finding what motivates your dog and keeps their attention is going to be a huge help. Dog treats are a great motivator! We hope the tips and tricks you learned in this guide will help you on your journey to training your dog with treats!