Should I Use Treats When Training My Dog?

Posted by Derek Vore on 5/18/2012

Are you curious whether or not using treats to train your dog is a good idea? There is much debate on this topic, as some trainer agree you should and others have a different opinion. Treats may seem like bribery, but do they produce a lasting effect?

To find out, I actually paid well over $1500.00 to have a highly accredited dog trainer come to my home. I have three dogs (an Anatolian Shepherd, a Bull Mastiff, and a Great Dane) who needed some serious training. Picture these three enormous dogs running full-speed, fighting, wrestling, and slamming into walls. I was worried about my TV!

So we hired a group of trainers. Our trainers were husband and wife, and even they have some disagreements when it comes to using treats. The wife agrees with using training treats, as they get the dogs' attention and help them to focus on following directions. When they see you hold the nugget of their desire, they will fight off any urges to run wild. You tell them to sit, they sit. You tell them to stay, they might. The point is, they have stopped rolling around the room like a Tazmanian Devil, and started paying attention to your commands.

The husband on the other hand was all about making sure the dog understands to listen regardless. He believes in the ideology that dogs want a purpose, a meaning, a job. So to give them a purpose in life, we make it their job to walk nicely along side us, sit when told, and stay back when company comes through the front door.

I've seen success with both, but I certainly feel happier about the husband's method. Nobody wants to carry treats with them 24/7 to make sure their dog will listen to them. It reminds me of when my parents would tease me as a child. "Jeeze Derek, gotta hang a pork chop around your neck to get the dog to play with you, huh?" I was a bit overbearing as a little kid, and I think the dog got sick of me at times.

Nonetheless, training treats make for a great tool in the early stages of dog training. For the first several months, you will want to have plenty on hand to use when conditioning your dog to follow commands. Think "Pavlov's Theory of Classical Conditioning." However, if you're going to be feeding your dog 50 cookies per day, make sure they're healthy. Just like you wouldn't want to give you kid a candy bar every time they finish the dishes or get a good grade, you don't want to feed your dog something that's bad for their health every time they follow a command.

Try something natural and low in fat, something like the food they would eat in the wild. Green Tripe is a great option that you can get in smaller morsels, and so is Beef Liver or Chicken. Just make sure that once your dog begins to preemptively do as expected at the first sight of a treat, you start teaching without the treats so they learn to do it for you and not for the reward.