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Using Treats to Train a Dog- The Pros and Cons

How do I use treats to train my dog? Is that even an effective method of training? Are there alternative methods that are better for my dog?

These are common questions we hear from many people who are trying to train their dogs. Whether they have a new puppy or are trying to teach an older dog new behaviors. You will find many pro and con answers to these questions, so we're here to sort it out for you.

World renown dog trainer Cesar Milan states, "Food is a powerful motivator for dogs — which is why it can often be very effective for obedience training." He reminds us that food is primal for canines, so when you harness the power of food correctly, it can make learning much easier for your dog.

While using treats to train a dog can be an effective method, Kimberly Alt from the Canine Journal says, "While I do believe in positive reinforcement training, I believe that reinforcement can come in the form of positive words and gestures towards my dog as much as dishing out treats." This is an important reminder when we are looking for the most effective training methods.

Using Treats to Train a Dog- The Pros

Positive Response- when using treats to train a dog, you will most likely see a positive response. By tapping into that natural desire for food by using treats to reward your pet for correctly following commands during obedience training, you may find that their response time is much quicker than other methods. This is especially true for puppies in their early years as they are just beginning their training. Using treats may in fact be the only way to gain their full attention when they are very young.

Quick and Easy- using treats to train a dog is often much easier than other methods of positive reinforcement. Dogs are naturally drawn to food, so as soon as the smell hits their nose, they are paying attention. This is especially true for a young puppy who may not even recognize their own name yet. They will recognize the smell of a yummy treat from the very beginning and you will have their full attention when they realize you are in control of that smell.

Consistency- using treats to train a dog allows for consistency when multiple people are doing the training. This is especially true in a family where there may be both adults and children working with a new pup. Hand gestures, words, and the application of verbal praise can vary greatly from person to person. Using treats keeps consistency throughout the training time and can yield much better results.

Using Treats to Train a Dog- The Cons

Creating Dependence- when you use treats to train your dog, you can unintentionally create a dependence on the treats for obedience. If your only method of training your dog includes tasty treats, it may be that they will only respond to commands when the treats are available. This can cause an unhealthy dependence on the treats and make advancing past the beginning training stages harder.

Unhealthy Relationships- your dog should build a relationship with you based on love not on your ability to give them treats. Using treats to build relationships with your dog could lead to an unhealthy balance and ultimately hinder the development of a loving and reciprocal relationship between the two of you.

Bribes vs. Rewards- using treats to train a dog correctly involved using those treats as a reward, not a bribe. You want to begin treat training by rewarding good behavior when it is performed naturally. For example, when your new pup is calming walking with you, give them a treat. You never want to create a situation where bribery is the only way your dog is willing to obey.

Tips for Successfully Using Treats to Train a Dog

  • Use Small Treats- using smaller treats or even pieces of treats ensures your dog maintains a healthy weight during the training times

  • Remove Distractions- when working on a focused training task, move your dog to a quiet area with very few distractions. This will help their ability to focus on you and the task you are teaching and allow for better results.

  • Use Healthy Treats- you always want to be sure you are using the best treats for your dog, especially when training requires many more than normal. For our suggestions, check out our Top 5 List of Training Treats for Dogs!

  • Reward Small Steps Along the Way- your dog may take a while to grasp a new concept, especially if they are very young. Be sure to reward each step toward a new goal to keep your dog motivated to continue learning and progressing.

Training your dog is a lifelong process. Be sure to try alternative methods as you go, such as positive affirmation and clicker training. These can be valuable tools to use alongside treats as effective methods to train your dog.

Don't forget to check out our Top 5 List of Training Treats for Dogs to find just the right fit for your special pup.