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Train your dog for praise or treats?

Posted on: July 16th, 2010 by

By: Chryssa Rich
Pets Best Insurance Marketing Associate
Jayda learns how to respond to commands without treats during obedience training.
Jayda and I recently completed a local obedience training course. Before the class started, I watched a DVD on pet health and obedience provided to me by the shelter where Jayda was adopted. In every scene, I noted the owner rewarded the dog with a treat.

Naturally, I headed to the nearest pet store and found some yummy little meaty things to toss Jayda’s way whenever she did something right. But two weeks and two jars of treats later, I still hadn’t gotten my dog to sit on command. I also began to wonder if all the high-calorie treats could be problematic for pet health.

The obedience class was a real eye-opener. Our trainer explained that most dogs will learn to obey with three simple tools: the right collar, consistency and praise. After a bit of dedication, that combination began to work for Jayda.

During the first class, Jayda lashed out at another dog, the same way she had towards a fellow dog at the Pets Best pet insurance office weeks prior. The trainer walked her to the front of the room to calm her down but Jayda dug in her heels in protest. As soon as she began to comply, the instructor praised her and Jayda’s ears and tail happily perked up.

As the weeks went by, those ears and tail got perkier and perkier. Now when she obeys a command, which is almost always, her tail starts wiggling on the floor in anticipation of the praise she’s about to receive.

Our class was comprised of about 20 other dogs of varying breeds and ages and their owners. Not a single duo relied on treats and all saw stellar results by the end of the eight weeks.

Some pet owners insist their dogs aren’t motivated by praise, and some just feel good giving treats to their pups. If that’s the case, be sure to choose a tiny, soft treat that doesn’t crumble. You want your dog to be able to gulp it down fast before he loses his train of thought.

And don’t forget to consider calorie and fat counts in conjunction with your pet’s diet. Pet health can be compromised by too many treats, especially human food like cheese or bread.

If you’re training a new dog, give it a go without treats first. If you need extra help, work with a trainer and talk to your vet about the best way to safely motivate your pup. It takes a bit of work, but in the end it’s worth it. Nothing makes life easier than a well-behaved dog—and now that Jayda’s responding to my commands, she’s always welcome at the pet insurance office.

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One Comment

  1. sylvia says:

    Interesting thoughts. Appreciate the input. Lots of different ways to train pets, obviously. I find the click and reward method works great with my llamas; however, I think treats, without treats etc. work with most dogs.

    Some may need some more motivation initially, and then can drop the treats once the behavior is learned. However, positive reinforcement with treats has been around since BF Skinner.

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