When it comes to training our dogs, treats are often our go-to tool. Treats can be highly effective in reinforcing desired behaviors and motivating our furry friends. But the question arises: will we always need to rely on treats for dog training? The short answer is no, but let's explore why treats are such a valuable training tool first.
Treats provide an instant reward for our dogs when they perform the desired behavior correctly. They tap into our dogs' natural instincts and help them understand that they are doing something right. Treats can be used to lure our dogs into different positions or to reward them for responding to verbal cues or hand signals. In essence, treats act as a currency in the training process, helping to communicate to our dogs what we want them to do.
However, it's important to note that treats should not be seen as the only way to train our dogs or used as a crutch where we end up with "my dog will only come if I have a treat". This is not the plan!
Over time, as our dogs grasp the concept of the desired behavior, we can gradually reduce our reliance on treats. This is known as fading the treat. We can begin by giving treats every time our dog performs the behavior correctly then switch to intermittently instead. However, we should only fade the treats once the behavior is strong. Fading the treat too fast can cause us to lose the behavior so, just be sure your dog knows the task well before fading the treats. The key to fading out treats is to do it gradually. Over time, you can further decrease the frequency until treats are only given occasionally. This gradual reduction allows your dog to adjust to the change and learn that they can still receive praise and positive reinforcement even without treats. Eventually, we can transition to using verbal praise, petting, or playtime as a reward instead of treats. By doing this, we ensure that our dogs are not solely dependent on treats for their training and that they understand that the training extends beyond just the treat itself.
Using treats and transitioning to verbal praise helps to build a stronger bond between you and your dog, as well as reinforcing their training in a more varied and dynamic way.
Looking for great treats for dog training? Some of my favorite treats for training are Zuke's Dog Training Treats (they are soft and small) and for really high value Happy Howie's come in a log that you can cut. Keep in mind, soft treats need to be stored in a sealed container but they do make for a very high value reinforcer for training. If you don't want to worry about storing, dried liver is another high value reward that doesn't need special handling to keep fresh.