Using Treats for Dog Training

How Treats Help You Train Your Dog

Golden retriever with dog biscuit on snout, elevated view
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Why use dog treats when training your dog? More and more dog owners are turning to positive reinforcement methods of dog training, such as clicker training. This type of training usually calls for the use of dog treats to teach dogs new behaviors. 

Why Use Treats for Dog Training?

Some people are concerned about using treats during dog training. They believe their dogs should want to work hard for them, and dog treats seem more like bribery than training tools.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Treats simply help you to get the behavior you want from your dog, and then let your dog know that he performed the behavior correctly. Dogs tend to learn faster and have more fun when they get rewarded for good behavior.

Treats should be looked at in the same light as your paycheck. Even if you have a job you love, and a great boss, chances are if you stop getting a paycheck, you're going to stop showing up for work. Dog treats are your dog's paycheck. They are simply a means of making sure your dog shows up eager to work when it's time for a training session.

Using Dog Treats to Lure

One way dog treats are used is to lure dogs to do the behavior you want. For example, when you train a dog to sit, you can start by luring your dog with a treat. Hold a treat close to your dog's nose, and slowly move the treat back over his head. Most dogs will stick their noses up to follow the dog treat, and as their nose goes up, their bottoms go down.

Luring works well on a number of other behaviors, including down and roll over.

Using Dog Treats to Reward

Dog treats are also a great way to reward your dog to let him know he has done something right. If you lure your dog into a sit, you can give him a treat to let him know he has done it correctly.

Give him the treat the second his rear end hits the floor. This works for all behaviors. You can encourage your dog to repeat behaviors you like, such as lying quietly on the floor during dinner or sitting when guests come through the door, by rewarding him with a treat to reinforce the behavior.

Keep Dog Treats Small

You don't have to give your dog a handful of treats every time you reward him. Instead, use the smallest treat your dog will work for. For most dogs, just a small nibble of something is enough to do the trick. Some dogs even work for their own kibble, one piece at a time. If your dog becomes less responsive to the treats you are using, you might need to "give him a raise" by making the treat more delicious. Many dog trainers use tiny bits of cooked chicken, string cheese, hot dog, or liver.

Adjust Your Dog's Diet

Keep treats in mind when you are feeding your dog each day, and adjust the amount of food he gets accordingly. Obesity in dogs causes a number of health problems, so it is important that you adjust your dog's regular feedings to accommodate any treats he gets during the day. You don't want your dog consuming more calories than he needs because he is getting treats during training sessions.

Keep in mind that your dog's treats should only make up about 10 percent of his daily diet.​ 

Phasing Out Dog Treats

One misconception people have about using treats for dog training is that their dogs will only perform for treats. Don't worry! You won't have to walk around with your pockets stuffed with treats for the rest of your life. Once your dog has learned a new behavior, you can phase out the treats, only giving him a treat every once in awhile. After trying this method, most dog owners find that using treats to train a dog makes training fun and rewarding!

Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT