Expert Q&A

Food treats work wonders with my male Labrador during training sessions, but do you have any tips on how to best choose and use them?

Food treats work wonders with my male Labrador during training sessions, but do you have any tips on how to best choose and use them?

BY: The Dog Daily Expert

Treats provide a memorable, tangible and delicious reward for a job well done. Some trainers advocate training without treats, and you can certainly wean your dog off treats after a while. There are also dogs that don’t respond to food treats during training sessions -- believe it or not -- opting instead for Frisbees, flashlight beams and other kinds of game-centered fun. But I enjoy training dogs with food rewards, and the dogs I’ve worked with have definitely enjoyed them and the time spent together.

Here are seven tips for selecting and using food treats for training:

1. Just because the food is a treat doesn’t mean it has to provide empty calories. Look for biscuits with balanced nutrition. Tartar-control treats can help clean your dog’s teeth as he chews on them.

2. Make sure the treats don’t add excess calories to your dog’s daily food intake. Subtract the calories of what you’re offering from your pet’s regular diet.

3. If you do buy larger-sized treats, break them up into smaller bites. Your dog shouldn’t get too distracted while consuming them.

4. Place the treats in a treat pouch (sold at pet food stores), a plastic bag or another odor-concealing container. This will make the reward more of a surprise and prevent your dog from becoming fixated on the treats you’re carrying.

5. Avoid providing special treats during the holidays, such as barbequed steak on the Fourth of July, or turkey on Thanksgiving. This may seem like a good idea at the time, but such foods can often cause canine stomach upset.

6. When training with treats, the length of sessions should be no more than 10 minutes, so that your dog will not receive a lot of food rewards at one time.

7. As Paul Owens and Norma Eckroate -- authors of the book The Dog Whisperer: A Compassionate, Nonviolent Approach to Training -- write, you want to use treats to lure and reward your dog, not bribe him. A lure is just meant to entice your dog, to get him interested in the promise of a reward. If you always use treats to get your dog to behave, however, you may wind up bribing -- instead of training -- him.


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