Properly treating your dog while training and walking
Dec 17, 2021
A major element of training your dog is positive reinforcement. This includes healthy treats for dogs, lots of praise and pats, or a favourite toy or game.
To get the best out of your dog, a treat should be yummy and drool-inducing to your pet. Try different flavours and textures to see which treats work best. We recommend natural, quick to eat, easy to handle dog treats rather than processed junk foods.
Training our dogs is an essential part of the health and well-being of every pooch. Taking responsibility for proper training shows you care about the safety of everyone and every dog around you; when your dog has good recall, they’re less likely to get into mischief or harm.
However, when training, we’re asking dogs to learn something that will likely be a complicated task, requiring them to perform a particular behaviour with a verbal or visual cue. And this may sound simple for us, but dogs don't communicate in the same way.
The good news is that by using that excellent doggie motivator — food — you can make training your pup much more manageable when done correctly.
So, here's our top tips on how to approach food-oriented obedience training:
Use small treats
It's easy to overdo it with goodies, especially during the early training phase. Help ensure your dog maintains their weight by using small treats or even pieces of treats. And don't give your dog something chewy or crumbly that breaks into bits and falls on the ground. Keep it small and soft. Chewy treats are appropriate for other occasions such as mental stimulation and oral health.
Rewarding the calm-submissive state
When reinforcing a behaviour preceding the treat, be careful not to reward hyperactivity. Only treat a calm pooch.
If your dog follows a command for reward alone, you may run into recall issues later on. Treats are great for getting your dog's attention, but you should rely on them less and less as training progresses. Instead, reinforce good behaviour by giving them your attention or affection as well.
Reward each step towards the desired behaviour
Getting your dog to perform an entire task before giving the treat may not work if several steps are involved in the activity. So instead, reward all progress towards the training goal. Be aware that initially, progress is often accidental on the part of your dog.
For example, if you're teaching sit and he attempts it but doesn't do a full sit, give him a treat. Do this until he figures out the connection between the delicacy and command. As training progresses, wait to reward your pup until they get closer to sitting until finally, they sit correctly.
Fade the lure
The fade the lure technique prevents treats from becoming bribes. Instead, use treats a few times to encourage a behaviour but then use the same gesture but keep your hand empty.
When your dog completes the task, give him verbal and physical encouragement. Then give him the treat. It will come to the point when you can randomly give treats and even stop entirely.
If your aim is for your dog to learn a particular position, only treat them in that position or on their way to it, not after jumping up excitedly.
Start training in a calm environment. Outside distractions can disrupt activity and remove focus.
Try different treats
Another problem you may face with food-oriented obedience training could be down to individual taste. Make sure your pooch finds the treats delicious enough to motivate the behaviour you want. Test out a variety of healthy dog treats until you find one that gets your dog's attention.
Some dogs are more food-oriented than others. If food doesn't capture your dog's attention, toys and your affection may work instead. Those who have a big appetite for a tasty treat always opt for a healthy reward.
Keep a variety of treats handy. Our dogs get bored with the same foods, just like we do.
Each time you use a food reward, also verbally praise them. Using simple words and an enthusiastic tone of voice. Then give your dog a treat.
If your pooch doesn't seem motivated by treats, a favourite toy, a pat or short play is often an acceptable reward to a dog.
When to treat your dog
When your pet is learning something new, reward them every time they demonstrate that behaviour. This is called continuous reinforcement.
However, once your pet has reliably learned the behaviour, it's time to start sporadic rather than continuous reinforcement.
Initially, rewarded with a treat four out of every five times they do the behaviour. Over time, rewards will become occasional. It's important not to decrease the rewards too quickly; this can confuse your pooch and lessen the chances training will be successful.
Continue to praise each time, and once your dog has learned the behaviour, your praise can become less enthusiastic.
Vary how often you reward your pup so they don't learn to respond in correlation to treat giving. Your pet will eventually understand that if they keep responding, eventually, they'll get your praise and an occasional treat.
If you feel your dog isn’t quite getting it, you can use a technique called shaping. Shaping is reinforcing behaviour that gets progressively closer to the desired response. A good example is to teach your dog to "shake". Initially, you'll reward them for lifting a paw off the ground a little higher as training progresses. Eventually, your pup will let you hold their paw and shake.
Tips for treating on walks
- Make sure you take extra treats to begin with if you're going on a walk. There'll come a time when you won't need any, but initially, it may cause training setbacks to be without treats.
- Hold a few treats on the same side of your body that the dog walks on.
- Take a step, stop, feed a treat at your side, not behind or in front of where you are standing.
- If your dog pulls, stop walking and call your dog back to you (you can use the treats to lure the dog back). But take two to three steps forward before giving them the treat. This should prevent teaching a bad pulling and coming back for a treat habit. Instead, you want to teach that walking alongside you on a loose leash equals getting a treat. At some point, you'll be able to take more steps between each treat. A good tip is to talk to your dog, keeping their attention on you.
- A relaxed or "off-duty" walk is when the dog doesn't need to be a heel. This means your pup can have freedom on the lead as long as they don't pull. It's good to have a command for this type of walk. Give the command and start walking. They can sniff, change sides, look around as long as they don't pull.
If your dog pulls, come to a stop and call him back. Make sure at this point he does heel before you continue.
The best type of treats for walking are easy to break and handle. In our range, the beef liver and lamb snacks are the perfect choices as a healthy and easy to handle training treat.
It can take longer for your dog to learn some behaviours, while others may pick up quite quickly.
At some point, though, your dog will get it and should be working solely for verbal praise because they want to please you. Plus, they know there's always the possibility of a treat too. But remember you're playing the long game, so be patient, stay calm and enjoy getting to know your pup.