Okay folks, heads up! This Ventura dog trainer says it’s time we look at “treats” and rewarding our dogs in a new way. I’ve been doing this myself for quite awhile now, and I’d love for you to join me in this new way of thinking.
I think we, as humans, are programmed to look at the word “treat” as that something extra we “earn” doing something that’s considered “difficult” for us. Maybe something mentally challenging like studying for an exam, and passing with flying colors, “Hey I deserve a treat tonight.” Or little Johnny getting an “A” so he gets a piece of cake. Maybe something physically challenging like training and competing in a triathlon…to celebrate, athletes will take themselves out for a nice meal…or ice-cream! Or parents will take their kids for pizza after a game. We earn it, we deserve it… If we don’t do something extra special we don’t get it…
Okay, that’s fine for ourselves, but what about our pet dogs? Most people end up giving their dogs their meals out of a bowl without asking them to do much of anything besides “sit” before it’s placed on the floor… big deal. Then I get training calls about needing help with being quiet in the yard, jumping up to greet people, walking poorly on leash… Well geez, why not use your dogs meal and give them pieces of it whenever they’re doing something you want? This way your dog is “earning” it, but you’re training at the same time…getting more “bang for your bowl” so to speak.
I’ve been taking Poncho out a lot, all over town, teaching him to run next to me while on leash. I seem to be the only one using “treats”… but what I’m actually using is his meal. Sure I’m using higher value stuff because I want the behavior badly, so I’m going to use something more motivating…at least for now. Once he “gets it” and is trained, I’ll be able to use less and less… or something lower value.
I’m not looking at it as “rewards”, I’m looking at it as his meal, his daily sustenance, and when we’re running I look at it as his personal “aid station”. I mean come on! When I’m running a race there are aid stations every mile! Water, electrolyte drinks, oranges, energy gels, banana’s, protein bars, and much more…. a lot of non-food items too – just to make everyone happy and as comfortable as they can be. So why can’t I be Poncho’s “aid station”? His kibble, turkey, and roast beef are equivalent to my energy gels and protein bars?
So the next time you pack your own lunch, your own snack, your kids snacks, or pass through the burger drive-through or a Starbuck’s, remember to pack snackies for your dog too… then use them to reward those behaviors you want!
BTW, this ice-cream moment was because Poncho’s dad happened to be eating an ice-cream and Poncho ignored the mail truck driving by…that’s a huge “win” in my book! Bonus!