When it comes to dog training, most owners want to make the process as stress-free as possible. For many owners—and even for pet training professionals—the answer is often dog treats. “I believe treats are generally good to use when the dog is in the right state of mind and when reinforcing the correct behaviors,” says Hamid Parvizian, director and head trainer at Sit Means Sit Dog Training in Houston. “All breeds and ages can truly benefit from treats or reward training.”
On the other hand, if your dog is very nervous or overly distracted, even the most valued treats may not hold enough appeal to grab your dog’s attention, Parvizian cautions. Still, the right treat with the right dog can go a long way in obedience training.
“In my opinion, size and texture are two of the most important factors to consider when choosing a good training treat,” Parvizian adds. “I want a treat that is small and dissolves quickly. The more time it takes my dog to eat the treat, the longer it takes to get through training repetitions.” For example, Blue Buffalo Blue Bits Tasty Chicken Soft-Moist Training Dog Treats and Zuke’s Mini Naturals Roasted Chicken Recipe Dog Treats are mini enough for your dog to consume quickly. Keep in mind that, if necessary, you can always cut up larger treats to make them an appropriate size for obedience training based on his height and weight.
As dogs age, Parvizian says that when working on obedience training it’s important to look for treats that are healthy for your dog, not just ones that taste good. Keep ingredients and portion sizes in mind when picking out treats for your pup. “I also avoid my dogs being saturated with treats as I always want to leave them desiring more,” Parvizian advises. “If they’re full or tired of the reward, it can put an end to the training session as the diminished desire for reward can be counterproductive.” For healthier treat options, you might try Fruitables Skinny Minis Apple Bacon Soft & Chewy Treats, which are low-calorie treats that combine the tastes of bacon, sweet potatoes and crisp apples that dogs adore. If your pup’s not an apple fan, then Stewart’s Pro-Treat Beef Liver Freeze-Dried Dog Treats are another healthy option for your pet training sessions.
Once you have your dog treats picked out, Parvizian says patience is the next most important thing. “Working with treats initially has more to do with quick repetitions,” he explains.
Parvizian goes on to explain the importance of marker words and/or clicker training, which is the use of a cue, with either a word or a click, that tells your dog that he has done something correct. “I prefer using a marker word over a clicker, although both are useful when consistent.”
For pet training–especially puppy training–to really work, every marker word or click must be accurately timed in order to take the correct picture of the desired behavior, Parvizian said. “Of course, after every marker word or click is given, your pup must receive a reward,” he adds. “This allows him to not only be more engaged, but also more willing to problem solve and learn how to think and analyze.”
Keep in mind that when starting out using treats for dog training, it’s about rewarding the behavior you want to see, which is a learning process for your pup. There is no right or wrong, says Parvizian. “We are building engagement and letting our dogs learn to think,” he says. “That is how we can shape the behaviors we want. Dogs learn by making mistakes, so rather than correcting them for negative behaviors, I prefer instead to redirect them to a correct behavior to reward.”
Cheryl Lock is a writer and editor who lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband, daughter and cat, Penny. Her work has appeared in dozens of newspapers, magazines and websites, and she’s written about everything from pets and politics to parenting, travel and food. Find more of her work at CherylLock.com, or follow her passion for travel on her blog at WearyWanderer.com.