Annie Phenix writes this weeks blog which is all about using treats to train your dog! As a certified professional dog trainer, she lists out all the benefits for using treats as a vital aspect when training your dog!!.
As a positive reinforcement trainer, I am thrilled that so many dog owners are seen out walking their dogs with “bait bags” attached to their hips. Those training bags are full of yummy treats designed … to do what exactly? Why are so many educated owners training with food these days?
There are several reasons we use high quality training treats when working with animals. Here are a few:
- The Power of Yes! When we work with dogs, we are working with a non verbal species, or at least one that doesn’t use our language. Therefore we need a way to tell the dog that what he just did is what we wanted. I use the word “yes” as a marker signal to say, well, YES! Well done! And then I follow the marker word with a tasty morsel when teaching new behaviors. I look for as many ways to say YES! as I can when training something new to the dog. Once a behavior is on cue then I begin to randomize the treats, though I still mark with an enthusiastic YES!
- What you reinforce continues. Dogs are smart and as a smart animal, they figure out what works for them to get what they want. All mammals share the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Training becomes a win-win scenario when we find ways to reinforce with a treat the behaviors a dog displays when we wanted those behaviors in the first place. For instant, I always teach a “default” sit where I reinforce with food every time a dog gives me a sit without me asking for one. They offered what I wanted and they get reinforced so they offer it more often. Sit is a vital skill as a dog cannot do many unwanted things (run off, jump on people , etc) while in a nice sit.
- Lights up the brain. We know that certain substances make parts of the human brain very happy. Some of these things include sugar, alcohol or drugs. It also includes oxytocin, the “love” hormone. When training an animal, I look for ways to make that animal’s brain VERY happy and food is an excellent conduit. Good food is a powerful tool we have to engage a dog and making what we have taught the dog “stick” because the brain is in a happy spot after receiving as tasty treat.
- Strengthens the bond. We have bred our four-legged best friend to love to be with us and to gaze lovingly at us with their soulful eyes. If we harm them or scare them while trying to train them, we have potentially harmed that built- in-bond. It does no one any good to scare or harm an animal in training when we know we can get everything we want from a dog by using excellent training reinforcers and the top one is: good food.
- Builds Motivation. When I am working with a client who wants to tell me that food is bribery, I ask: do you get a paycheck at work and is that bribery? Or does that paycheck give you the motivation to pull yourself out of bed and head to work day in and day out? All animals need motivation. How utterly boring it would be for such a smart species like a dog to be expected to be a robot. Using food in training ensures your dog gets and stays excited about learning. Who wouldn’t want to share their lives with another species who can’t wait to learn more and all for a tasty morsel now and again? It’s brilliant!
Can you train dogs without using food? You can. But why would you when there are so very many benefits to putting food in the rotation while training? Ask yourself who you like to learn from in your own life – the task master who never gives you praise or reason to be motivated and tells you NO all day or the coach who lets you know when you got something exactly right and reinforces your right choices?
Annie Phenix is a Certified Fear Free professional dog trainer who resides in Utah in the United States. She is the author of the best selling book: The Midnight Dog Walkers: Positive Training and Practical Advice for Living with Reactive and Aggressive Dogs. She is a national columnist for Dogster Magazine.