Using Treats Strategically!
By: Brittney Frazier – Dog Trainer, CPDT-KA, APDT, CGCE
As a trainer at Found Chicago, dog owners walk in asking for help dealing with their three month old puppy all the way to the other end of the spectrum to dealing with separation anxiety and extreme aggression.
But, the most common dog I work with is the over exuberant family dog. Being one of the simplest dogs to train for a dog trainer, a common house dog can easily become one of the most difficult dogs to see immediate change in behavior. Why? The training of a well-balanced, content dog is all about lifestyle and the relationship that is maintained by his or her family.
Being a dog lover myself, I enjoy spoiling my dogs as much as the next person. But, I understand the immediate consequence of every piece of positivity they experience. A dog that is overweight is visibly spoiled with too many treats or food. But some people don’t consider that their dog may be spoiled in affection and privilege. The definition of spoiled, in this case, being that the dog doesn’t earn any of the rewards it receives. Too much play without enough work work would make anyone lazy and ignorant of structure.
A teenager, for example, will always perform to whatever expectation his or her parents, school, or peers have of him or her. Most parents expect their teenager to earn good grades, make their bed each morning, and get a job when he or she turns sixteen. It is without these expectations that the teenager begins to go off the desired course and get into trouble.
Dogs are no different. It is often that I see an adolescent dog with a constant flow of rewards he or she didn’t earn, leading to misbehavior. With the beautiful life we give our pets, there is no reason our dogs shouldn’t be expected to give us what we ask for during the routine of our lives with them. From a simple “come” and “sit” before leashing, to a a “down” and “stay” before meals, teach your dog that rewards come easily and quickly provided that they give you the expectation of behavior you’re asking for at that particular moment.
Your touch and affection is your biggest weapon in rewards. Remember that if you are touching your dog, you should like whatever they have recently done within your vicinity. It is all too often that I see petting and affection given to dogs with him or her not having earned it. If you teach your dog that you will offer yourself to him or her regardless of their behavior, the dog will never learn to earn it. Make sure to offer your affection after a level of behavior that can be expected of your dog at that point in their training. If you are working on “down” as a new behavior, try asking for that level of obedience before every reward if “sit” has already become the norm.
This kind of reward-based life teaches a dog that you’re his or her reference point in new situations. When a dog feels the need to encounter every person, dog, and vehicle on a walk, he or she can become very stressed, which will intern lead to added anxiety and reactivity. With the expectation of sitting whenever you are stopped and before meeting new dogs and people, you are teaching them to “earn” their walk through good behavior that you consider desirable. In turn, asking them to earn rewards on their walk will create a dog that naturally becomes calm, tugs less on the leash, and gives you more eye contact because he or she understands that the added structure will eventually lead to good things.
All in all, we love our dogs and our dogs love us, that’s a given. But using that to our advantage by asking him or her for a high level of behavior before anything your dog could become excited to receive will put you in the leadership role and allow you to live your life without having to reach for the treat jar constantly.