At Fur Get Me Not we use treat training as one of the ways to reward behaviours we like from our dogs. We know that behaviour that gets rewarded gets repeated. The more we can reward the behaviours we want, the more likely we are to get that desired behaviour in the future. For example, if we ask Fido to sit, and he gets a reward each time he puts his bottom on the ground, the more likely we will get that behaviour next time we say ‘sit’.
We use treat training in our classes and one on one consults for a number of reasons:
Food is a primary reinforcer
All animals find food reinforcing. We need access to food to live, and it generally feels good to eat a tasty treat. This is the same for dogs and humans. If your dog does not find food reinforcing this may be because your dog is unwell, overly scared, hyperaroused (this means way too excited), or your dog may be closer to another competing reward that is more valuable than the food (for example the potential to chase a bush turkey). In addition, if your dog has had access to too much food in the day, they may be full and food temporarily stops being as reinforcing.
Treat training can be used to quickly teach new behaviours by using a lure
This is where we use the movement of a treat to position our dog’s body. Once they are in the position we want, we give them the treat. Luring is quick and easy, but can be misused if the lure is not faded out within 3-5 repetitions. It is crucial to fade out the lure, otherwise us holding the treat in our hand becomes part of the cue. Often people who say that treat training didn’t work for them, or that their dog will only do the behaviour if they are holding a treat, it is because they didn’t fade the lure fast enough, or they may have never faded the lure.
We can establish a new behaviour quickly using treat training
This is because we can reward a high number of repetitions of the behaviour in a short period of time. We can use other reinforcers such as sniffing, and play, but these may not be suitable for the dog, the behaviour or the situation. These other reinforcers also take more time and skill to implement successfully.
We can use our dog’s response to treat training as an indicator of stress
If our dog is not eating in class or when in a potentially scary situation, this can be an indication that they are too stressed and they may not feel safe. No one wants to eat when they feel unsafe. If you are seeing this with your dog, and you think they may be scared, there may be a more serious behaviour concern going on. Please get in touch with us so we can help.
Used correctly, food can be a tool to help our dogs be calm in certain situations
We want to create calm associations for different situations for our dogs and food is an excellent tool to do this. Read more about this concept in our Dog Yoga blog.
Next week we will be giving you more tips on what to consider when treat training, reach out if you have questions in the meantime.