I think nearly every dog owner in the world has asked themselves whether using food to train their dog is effective…or just cheating! When it comes to the question of how to train a dog with treats and whether or not you should be using food to train your dog, the best thing to do is to get advice from a professional dog trainer, not fellow dog owners at the park.
What I’m about to explain comes directly from professional dog trainer, “Doggy Dan,” – the owner of the video-based dog training website, The Online Dog Trainer. What Doggy Dan teaches us about this may surprise you!
Myth #1: If you train your dog with food, they’ll only listen to you when you have food in your hand.
This is simply not true. Dogs will listen to you whether you have food or not, even if they were initially trained with treats. The reason you can start by using food to train your dog is because at first, your dog will do absolutely anything you say, just as quickly as he can figure out what you’re asking – if there is a treat to be had. This is the quickest, most effective way to train your dog – getting him to listen right from the start. Then, once your dog learns to respond to your commands automatically, you simply fade out the treats gradually, offering them less and less often. I’ll cover this later in this article. But for now, let’s learn how to use treats effectively.
How to Maximize the Use of Food Treats
Maybe you know someone whose dog only listens to them if they offer the dog a treat. Or worse, maybe the dog doesn’t listen at all, even if a treat is involved. Maybe this is you and your dog? Maybe it seems like the only way to get your dog to listen to you is to bribe them with a treat, and that just doesn’t seem right. Well, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. And the solution isn’t complicated – it’s easy!
I always recommend to people who are struggling to train their dog that they visit a website called, The Online Dog Trainer, where professional dog trainer Doggy Dan has more than 250 videos where he shows you how to solve absolutely any dog training issue you can think of. Doggy Dan is one of the world’s most accomplished professional dog trainers – so much so, that his website is endorsed by New Zealand’s SPCA! If you’d like to check out his dog training website, click HERE. Or…stay with me and continue this article – I’ll give you the link to Doggy Dan’s website again at the end! Here are three simple tricks I learned directly from Doggy Dan on how to train your dog using food.
- The Jackpot!
Dogs are more motivated and excited by receiving treats as rewards if the size of the treat varies. In other words, it’s better to give your dog a couple of small treats, then surprise him with a huge sausage. Yes, you heard that right! Imagine his delight when he begins to expect a mini milk bone, then all of a sudden, the jackpot of all doggy treats appears! I promise you your dog will be so excited about the possibility of another big sausage showing up that he’ll work for you and work for you and work for you – obeying every time – receiving the small treat, small treat, small treat…until Jackpot! a big sausage again! You just can’t keep giving your dog the same small, boring treat every time. Maybe a big sausage isn’t feasible – but you get what I mean. Surprise him every few times with something particularly big and yummy. It’ll keep him coming back for more in the form of obeying you every single time. Every time you give him a command or make a request of him, he’ll be hopeful that the big treat will be his reward!
- What is even better to a dog than a big sausage?
Two big sausages? Good guess! But the answer is actually the same sausage – but cut into 5 or 6 small pieces. Now, the next time your dog obeys a command, start putting the pieces into his mouth, one after the other, until the whole sausage is gone. Talk about Jackpot! He’ll think he’s won the lottery! Receiving piece after piece of this wonderfully tasty treat is beyond rewarding for a dog. (Are you getting the idea here? The idea is to build yourself up to be the most wonderful, most delicious creature in the universe in your dogs eyes! LOL)
Just like people, dogs have their favorite foods. If you want your dog to obey every time, then find out what floats his boat! (or maybe I should say what wags his tail! Ha! I’m killing me today…) The fact is, there’s a huge difference in performance between a dog who’s really excited to win the reward compared to a dog who’s only half interested in the treat. For example, don’t just offer a milk bone every time; rather, put a little peanut butter on one sometimes. Or offer a little piece of chicken, bacon or cheese. I personally recommend real, whole foods as treats for dogs – mine loves blueberries, believe it or not. Some dog treats can be harmful for dogs because they contain ingredients, say, to keep the treats soft, that can actually harm the dog. And also remember that some foods can be poisonous for dogs. Be careful, obviously, not to add too many calories to your dog’s daily intake by giving too many treats. Bottom line – keep treats healthy and low-fat as much as possible. Raw carrots are a wonderful treat. Most dogs like them, and chewing them up is great for cleaning their teeth!
Let’s keep in mind that your end goal here will be to fade out the treats over time until they become very random rewards.
Fading out the Food
By now you’re probably wondering if you’ll have to give your dog endless treats from now until eternity if you want him to obey. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As I mentioned earlier, you need to understand how to fade out the food treats over time.
This is important. To begin fading out the food, start by giving your dog the treat from inside your hand so he can’t see it. Then slowly start to reward with food every second time he obeys you, then every third time he obeys you. Eventually, treats will become only random rewards. But remember not to rush this. Fading out the treats should happen very slowly – over a period of months, not days. Eventually you’ll end up only giving a treat every 5th time – then every 10th time – then every 20th time. Until eventually the dog only receives a treat every now and then. The fact is, by this point you’ve accomplished training your dog. They listen now. They understand what you’re asking, and they obey…because it’s become a habit to!
This attitude seems to be most popular with people who either have never owned or trained a dog, or worse, with people who think you need to use a lot of force, fear or aggression in dog training. This approach is so “old school” – the notion that dogs should just obey “or else.”
The fact is, every dog is different. Some dogs are happy to do absolutely anything asked of them just to please their owner. For these dogs, the owner’s affection and attention may very well be enough. Other dogs are continuously thinking about their next meal. This is a dog who will learn about 100 times faster if you’re offering treats. Dogs who are extremely active, who run around like crazy at the dog park, for example, most definitely will need food treats to even get their attention for two seconds, let alone trying to train them.
Food is always going to be the number one reward for most dogs.
Using food to training your dog is, without question, the fastest and most effective way to teach your dog to listen. Hopefully this article has made you understand the truth in that. You train with treats – then eventually the treats become just random rewards. It’s fast, easy and effective.
For More Information
If you would like more information on this subject, or any other dog training issue, feel free to check out Doggy Dan’s complete dog and puppy training website, The Online Dog Trainer. Doggy Dan gives you a $1 trial of the site for THREE DAYS! Click in, sign up, and spend three days browsing through more than 250 dog training videos – for just $1! By the end of the three days, you’ll be wondering how you’ve ever owned a dog without knowing about Doggy Dan!
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