Okay folks, heads up! This certified professional 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 and improved’ way of thinking.
As humans, we have been programmed to look at the word “treat” as being that something extra we earn because of doing something that’s considered difficult for us. Maybe something mentally challenging like taking an exam, finishing a project at work, or as a self-care event. “Hey I deserve a treat!” Or, 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! Another example are parents taking their kids for pizza after a game. What ever the reason, we say we earn it, we deserve it. And, if we don’t reach our intended goal, we can’t justify indulging.
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 whoop. Well, when I’m constantly contacted by pet parents saying they need help because their dog is barking all of the time, reacting poorly on leash, or jumping up on everyone the dog meets, one of my initial thoughts is, let’s take the food out of the bowl and use it for training instead. 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 all at the same time…getting more “bang for your training buck” 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 is trained and more proficient, I’ll be able to use less food, even something that is considered 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 I am being 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, yes?
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!