More treats?

Are more treats necessary?

That question came out of my Monday Post about dog boots. It crossed my mind that anybody who has not had the pleasure of living with a dog (or someone who still believes in the dominance methods of training), could well be shaking their heads because we are simply bribing Ray…. and you just cannot keep bribing a dog to get him to cooperate. I totally agree!

The difference between a bribe and a reward must be understood. A bribe is offered BEFORE an event happens. A reward is offered AFTER an event happens. Positive reinforcement training is rewards based… not bribe based.

It is also important to understand that a dog is an opportunistic character (we should learn from them), in that once a behaviour is established, the treats can slowly be withdrawn. i.e. Last week, Ray knew that he would get small pieces of Cheddar cheese when each boot was on. Yesterday, while he no doubt expected the routine to be repeated, he did in fact get less cheese. His attitude would be simply “Oh… no cheese with the first boot, but I’ll probably get a piece with the next one!” (That’s the attitude which so many people should adopt). It will probably not be long before he allows all four boots to be put on before he gets his piece of cheese!

Another comment we often hear regarding reward based training, is the potential for putting on too much extra weight if he keeps getting treats, due to a heavy training program. This is typically a non-dog owner question, because the solution is really simple. We cut back on his main meals.

Ray really does not care whether he gets two cups of food in his bowl, or a cup and half. He just wants his food in the bowl at meal times! With the same rationale, he does not care how big a treat is, as long as it tastes good (necessary for training).

It is so easy (far too easy) to put human values on the situation, and believe that Ray, being a quite big dog, would like big treats. He really appreciates a biscuit as a treat, and it is immaterial what size it is. He will enjoy it regardless (something else us humans can learn perhaps?).

Just thinking!

29 thoughts on “More treats?

  1. Bundy is almost 11 and we still use treats with him but in small amounts and his meals are adjusted accordingly. We did it initially as part of his obedience training and as he got older we used treats and training to keep him focused on us while our old dog finished her dinner in peace. Now it is more of an after dinner bonding routine and then he settles down for the evening.

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  2. Spot on Colin. The analogy I heard and continue to use regarding backing off little by little on treats when teaching a new behavior is slot machines. Gamblers will continue to put in coins so long as they are payed off from time to time. Our pups know the “slot machine” will pay off eventually and therefore don’t need to be “paid” each time as they become more and more familiar with the behavior. An occasional big payoff – handful of treats – can further reinforce this.

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    • We have “treat party”, which is a load of treats going down on the floor all at once. It is an emergency measure if we want his immediate/urgent attention. I’ve only used it once…. it was perfect, and prevented him from leaving the yard and potentially crossing the street (he has no road sense).

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  3. I had a heck of a time some years ago. Michelle would use treats, but she would give them large ones or several small ones. I told her, it is supposed to be a treat, not a full meal!

    I still have small twitches, from that flower vase.

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  4. With you all the way Colin. With Maggie as you know her treats were cheerios breakfast cereal. Repetition and reward, though gradually the reward was not always edible, and varied by fuss or playing with a toy. She still has treats for good behaviour. We have to be careful though as Good Girl (the GG word) means ‘I’ll just show you where the biscuits are kept’ to her!

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  5. Absolutely! What else is their motivation? With Callie, it’s only treats. With Charlie, I can switch between treats and praise.
    And then there are some things that just continue to take lots of treats at our house, as much as we try to cut back, well, really, just nail-clipping. I wholly believe that any dog fearful of that can be taken care of at home with two people, a treat feeder and a clipper, LOL.
    My mom drives me nuts though, she seems to think that since her dog has been with her for a year and a half she doesn’t need treats when something new comes along. For instance, her dog is a major puller so I suggested my mom try the easy walk front harness as I have had great success with it. Well, her dog let her put it on her and walk her with it but was miserable every time. I asked her if she introduced it with a treat reward and she said no – I was like, MOM! Every time you train your dog to something new you have to go back to the beginning!

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    • Hi Molly – Ray has large and thick claws, so the clipper can “pull” with the pressure needed to cut… but we now use a dremel grinder and he is relatively happy with it! The only thing one has to watch is that the grinding wheel rotates outwards…away from his claws, otherwise it could “grab” the end.

      Ray was a “puller”, and we learned 2 things – 1/. He either thinks he knows where you are going, or is simply taking you somewhere. This can be resolved by continually changing direction so he has no clue where you are going. He’ll soon catch on! 2/. Use the treats but keep therm in your pocket nearest to him. He will soon figure out that way ahead = no treats, but walking alongside that pocket ……..!

      Let your Mom know that Ray has been with us for 5 years this coming March, and we still give him treats as necessary. A small price to pay for a cooperative and happy dog! 🙂


  6. So much truth to this on so many levels. I only have one cat (out of 4) that is will work for food. The rest think it’s part of the room and board deal. There are other things they like with attention on top of the list. I am a big fan of positive based training. I hate to see animals cower from fear. Not a fan of all the painful tools used. You wouldn’t put a bark collar on your child. It’s best to take the time to understand where the behavior is coming from before working on correcting it. I never worry about Ray’s weight. He gets a lot of exercise!

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    • Impressive dog knowledge (for a cat lover)! It certainly makes no sense to try and address a behavior until you understand the cause behind it. Dogs will bark, and there will be a reason for it. If the reason/cause can be identified and resolved, the barking will stop. Ray used to bark freely because he was afraid of people and other dogs. He now loves everybody (and most dogs) because they could mean treats! Always nice to hear from you Kate. 🙂

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      • Really dogs aren’t any different than cats or people (but don’t tell Ray that!). I know it’s hard to believe but every once in a while one of my cats will have a negative behavior that I need to correct. Sometimes it’s a health issues (cats are sneaky about being sick) but sometimes it’s something as simple as another cat is bullying (of course not in my house!). I could get on a soap box with how stupid people are with pets. Simple things like playing rough with a kitten will insure it will be more aggressive.

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