Treat Training

Bribing Miss Daisy


"She'll do it for a cookie, but if I don't have a cookie, forget it!"

This oft-repeated lament of the pet owner is heard countless hundreds of times by obedience instructors who are trying to assess the level of training achieved by new students in the class.

Sometimes the trainer groans and makes a note on her clipboard next to Fudge's name.

Sometimes the owner apologizes: "I know I shouldn't do it, but I give Monkey a piece of cheese when she does what I tell her."

There's no need for notes or apologies: treat training is a legitimate method of teaching canine courtesy as long as the owner -- not a demanding Monkey or Fudge -- controls the goodie box.

Successful treat training results in a dog with polished manners, a dog who sits when asked, waits to be petted, and does not beg at the table. Unsuccessful treat training results in a dog who rules a household with an iron paw.

Training a puppy with food rewards

Treat training is one of several methods of motivational training that encourages the puppy to do what you want by bribing him with something he wants. It is an easy way to teach sit, come, take your medicine, and a bag full of tricks. And it can be used to hurry housetraining and correct bad habits.

Here's how.

Reinforce the sit command at mealtimes by holding her food dish above her head, telling her to sit, and then (and only then) put the dish on the floor.

To teach her to lie down, tell her to sit, then, instead of immediately giving the treat, hold it in your fingers and bring it down past her nose to the floor as you say "dowwwnn." When your fingers reach the floor, slowly move them along the floor away from the pup so she has to lie down to get the goodie. This takes practice (and a sense of humor) as puppies seldom read the instructions and may pop up and pounce on your fingers instead of gracefully lying down.

Don't forget to praise as you give her the treat so she associates your melodic voice with the pleasure of food.

The third big command to teach with treats is "come." This command can save the life of the dog and make or break an owner's equilibrium. After all, a dog that comes on command is a joy; a dog that takes off in the other direction or plays tag around a tree is the ultimate frustration.

Use treats to reinforce or teach good elimination habits by rewarding Fudge with a bit of cheese or other tasty morsel when she relieves herself outside. And follow each heartworm pill or dose of medication with a tidbit to make pill-popping a pleasant experience.

When using treats to teach commands, gradually replace food with praise as Daisy learns. Reinforce occasionally with a bit of favorite nosh, but don't depend on the treat to get obedience.

When using treats for training, use small bits of something special, not whole biscuits or pieces of Daisy's regular food. You can buy specially packaged treats at pet supply stores, but lots of dogs like bits of cheese, hotdogs, fruit, popcorn (unsalted), pieces of dry cat food, bits of Bil-Jac frozen food, or any dry food that is different than the regular diet.

Don't succumb to Daisy's pleading eyes and salivating jaws at the dinner table or at family snack time. People foods, especially those that are fried, covered with sauce, or spicy can upset a dog's digestive system. Ice cream, potato chips, and other high fat or high calorie people-pleasers can cause obesity in dogs.

Toddlers, dogs, and food

When toddlers eat meals or have their afternoon milk and cookies, put Daisy in another room. Toddlers love to feed the dog and will often toss bits of food to see Daisy scramble for a bite. Daisy then learns that the child is an acceptable source of snacks may begin to grab food that is not tossed, thus endangering toddler fingers and encouraging more dominant behavior. When Daisy gets her dinner or snack, keep toddlers away from her dish or goodie. No dog should ever have to deal with toddler fingers in her dinner or grabbing at her treat. Any dog is likely to defend his food, especially if repeatedly subjected to interference with his meals.
Norma Bennett Woolf

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