Should Owners Give Dogs Treats for Good Behavior?

Dog treats can be a valuable training tool. However, just as with any other training tool, they must be used correctly to be effective.

Benefits of Food Rewards

Food rewards are an excellent training tool because they are easy to use and most dogs love them. Any kind of treats can work for training as your dog is not allergic to them. If your dog has a sensitive stomach, choose a food reward with the same protein base as his food. As with food, it's best to choose treats made up of protein and fresh vegetables without fillers such as wheat, corn and preservatives.

When looking for a natural motivator for your dog, food is a great choice because every dog has to eat. It provides a positive way to mold your dog's behavior. If you are uncomfortable feeding a lot of treats, use your dog's kibble. Dogs in the wild have to work for their dinner. Why do ours get their for free?

Criticisms of Food Rewards

Compulsion trainers contend that using food during training prevents your dog from learning to respect the owner because the dog is only working for food. However, positive trainers say they are getting effective results that last even after treats aren't administered.

Critics also say that using food is similar to bribery, but if the rewards are used correctly, it isn't bribery because the treats come as a surprise after the dog is obeyed. Even if you love your job, you work for a paycheck. Why shouldn't your dog be rewarded for doing his job well?

Correct Usage of Food Rewards

Many trainers use food to mold the correct behavior for the dog. Often, dogs misbehave because they don't know what we want them to do instead. Thus, rather than waiting for their dogs to make a mistake, positive trainers teach alternative behaviors that they prefer, such as sitting rather than jumping.

In this case, the food is held in the trainer's hand while he or she moves her hand in a position that guides the dog where he or she wants him to go. For example, if teaching a sit, the trainer moves the treat above the dog's nose toward his rear until he points his head upward and drops his rear to the ground.

Then, the trainer gives a reward word, such as "good" or "yes." The treat follows. Always use the reward word first because it will soon become as rewarding as the treat.

After two or three repetitions with the treat in the hand, the treat must be removed from the hand and kept in a pocket or fanny pack so it is not visible to the dog. Use the hand signal without the treat. When the dog obeys, give the reward word and follow with the hidden treat. Then, the treat isn't a bribe because the dog didn't know it was coming.

As the dog performs the behavior reliably, use treats only intermittently and reward with other things, such as praise, petting and toys. If you follow these steps, food isn't used as a bribe but just another tool in your training toolbox.