We say it to our four-legged friends all the time, but what’s on the other end of that positive verbal reinforcement? Sometimes, an ear scratch or tummy rub is plenty, but other times, praise is best served with a treat.
During training, treats can be a particularly effective way to influence positive behavior. With a gentle, patient, motivation-based approach, we can develop even stronger bonds with our dogs. They can get bored, just like we can, and teaching them new skills is an excellent way to keep them happy and healthy.
Why should I teach my dog new tricks?
The real question is, why NOT!?
From exercise, to mental health, to obedience, taking the benefits of training with your pup feel endless. Plus, it can simply be an enjoyable activity to work into your routine each day.
Mental Health Often, we think of dog “tricks” as something to show off to family and friends. We humans may consider this the most enjoyable aspect of training, but our dogs’ brains work differently. They need stimulation, but they can’t exactly binge a new favorite Netflix series, read a book, or check out what’s new on Instagram. To start, they don’t have opposable thumbs… Regardless, you can help keep your dog’s mind sharp with challenging, new tricks.
Exercise Physical health remains important too. Many tricks help boost a dog’s stamina. We think of “fetch” as a game, but it’s technically a trained exercise, or trick. Conversely, withholding that ball throw in favor of a prolonged, successful “stay” can be effective too. Agility training—even low-impact exercises, like rolling over, spinning in circles and shaking hands—can help increase your dog’s flexibility, balance, and (paw-eye) coordination.
Obedience Improving your pup’s obedience is another top reason for regular training. Basic voice commands, such as SIT, STAY, DOWN, COME, and OFF arm you with the tools to avoid common dog behavior problems. Dogs have attention spans too, so steadying their concentration can prove helpful. Incorporating this functional training with “fun,” trick-based training adds variety to their routine and helps ensure your dog is pleasant to be around.
Before sitting, staying, or rolling over, we should consider the natural temperament of our canines. For example, training for stockier breeds like bulldogs will naturally differ from the training appropriate for certain terriers or shepherds.
Regardless of breed, training sessions should be brief, regular, and full of motivators. For some, the key motivator can be a favorite or new toy, but those are one-time rewards, and they are far less effective in shaping behavior.
Most common are food treats, but not all treats are created equal.
What treats are best for my dog?
For now, we’ll discuss what to look for in a food-based treat. Toys are excellent too and should round out your rewards system. So are slow-eating treats, like bully sticks and peanut butter-filled Kongs. These are perfect to help them pass the time when you’re away from home or when you need uninterrupted time at home, like during meal prep.
When it comes to training-centric treats, the average pet food aisle or pet store section contains a mountain of options. These criteria can help you narrow them down:
Smaller in size
Soft & smelly
Granted, every dog is different. With any new pup, we need to experiment with different options until we find the most effective (and their favorite) treats.
When we teach our pups new behaviors, we must keep them constantly interested and motivated along the way. The American Kennel Club recommends ahigh rate of reinforcement, or how often you provide treats in a given training session. With such powerful ears and noses, there are many other “rewards” competing for your dog’s attention, from the cat on the neighbors fence, to your dinner in the oven.
To preserve their attention, we should provide treats that our pups can consume quickly. If they can eat them quickly, we can move on to the next training “rep.” Practice makes perfect, and this helps squeeze the most practice into a shorter time frame. You won’t have to increase the length of your training and risk losing their focus.
Like fast-eating treats, smaller options help keep training sessions from growing stagnant. You might be surprised to hear that treats the size of a dime (or smaller) are the perfect size, even for large dog breeds. You can look for smaller treats, or you can simply break apart larger treats that your dog enjoys.
We may eat with our eyes, but our pups still love smaller nibbles. More importantly, you reduce the risk of overfeeding between meals. Breaking two large treats into 10 training bits is far better than five large treats broken in halves. As we train more complex new behaviors, or attempt to train out of deep-seated negative habits, we need a higher quantity of positive rewards. However, this does not have to mean that the calories skyrocket.
3. Soft & Smelly
Playing into our theme so far, softer treats are also quicker and easier for our dogs to eat. The common, crunchy, biscuit treats are okay, but they are messier. While your pup is worried about cleaning up every last crumb that falls to the floor, they lose focus on the task at hand (err...paw). For training, softer is better.
Softer treats tend to be stinkier. This plays nicely into a dog’s “ranking” of reward options. We all have our favorite ice creams, songs, and restaurants. Our pups have their own favorites, and when it comes to treats, they lead with their noses. There is a reason your dogs go nuts when you cook bacon! The more distractions at play (think: dog park vs. at home), the more rewarding a treat must be. So the smaller, softer, and smellier, the better.
Dogs get bored with the same treats, over and over. Changing up their treat routine keeps them attentive and motivated. That new smell can be intriguing enough to ignore that perfectly-shaped stick, at least for a moment. When training, change up their treats to maintain their enthusiasm.
As you progress through training, consider building on their hierarchy of rewards. In a given session, you could start with kibbles or carrots (lower value), and build to something more interesting and valuable to your pups, like bits of cheese or jerky treats. This keeps them focused on you and motivated to continue the correct, desired behavior.
Why K9 Power?
K9 Power has over 25 years of experience researching & developing premium pet supplements for health-conscious dog-owners. We believe that our supplements combined with a balanced diet, can greatly improve any dog’s quality of life.
We didn’t stop at supplements though. We designed our Carnivore Cookies to feed their inner wolf. Your dog may not act like a wolf, but they’re still wired like one, right down to their diet.
As far as treats go, Carnivore Cookies are among the healthiest available, with nutrients your pups may be missing from their diet. All-natural ingredients, like chicken, whole eggs, tomatoes, and blueberries make these treats a protein-packed, excellent source of energy. (That's between meals, of course.) Oh, and they just happen to be fast-eating, soft and easily broken into small pieces, and smelly enough to be perfect for training.
Finally, treats they will love and you won’t feel guilty feeding them.
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