Using Dog Training Treats for Positive Reinforcement

Dog training treats are an important tool in using positive reinforcement training. However, just as with any other tool, using them the correct way will increase your chance for success.

Introducing Behaviors

Treats are often used as a lure to mold new behaviors. For example, to teach sit, put a treat directly above your dog's nose and move it back over his forehead. This will cause him to look up and drop into a sit. This teaches the dog how to move himself into the position without you pushing him into it.

Treats are a great motivator; however, you don't want to become dependent on them. After molding the behavior two to three times with the treat, you want to use the hand signal you used with the treat but without the treat in your hand. When your dog does the behavior for just the hand signal, have two or three treats in your pocket with which you instantly reward.

If you have to have the treat in your hand to get the behavior, you used the lure too long. Be patient. Use only your hand signal. When your dog finally performs, he will be surprised with a big reward. Then, he learns that you may always have treats, even if he can't see them.

Varying the Reward

When you are teaching a new behavior, reward often to encourage learning. Anything that is difficult for your dog, such as focusing on you with other dogs around, should also be rewarded heavily. For these rewards, choose something your dog really likes, preferably soft and meaty, such as liver treats, healthy human food or home-made dog treats.

Once your dog is good at a behavior, you want to start weaning off the treats. If your dog sits, he doesn't get a treat every time. Sometimes, he gets pets or simply praise. Maybe you want to use a less valuable reward such as his kibble. If your dog still receives treats occasionally, he will still be excited to work.

Conditioning a Reward Word

When teaching new behaviors, you want to condition a reward word, such a "good," that your dog receives every time he does something right. Even if you don't have a treat, you can always tell him he's a good boy.

To condition him to be excited about this word, say it right before you give him a treat. When you are teaching a behavior, say the command while using the treat lure, say "good," and then give the treat. Soon, just like Pavlov's dogs were trained to salivate at the sound of the bell, your dogs will be wagging for joy each time they hear their reward word.

This will help wean off treats as well. Start giving treats randomly as he learns the behavior but always say "good," which will become almost as exciting as the treat itself.

Positive reinforcement training is a rewarding way to build a relationship with your dog while teaching him how to behave. Treats provide excellent motivation and will accelerate your training, as long as they are used correctly.