When used correctly, treats are a great way to train your pet using positive reinforcement. Some view using treats to train pets as a form of bribery, however, your pet is more likely to view the treat as a reward for the work you do in training. Here are 7 top tips to help you train your pet successfully using treats.
1. Keep treats small – Giving too many treats or too large of treats is similar to overfeeding your pet. It can cause them to gain weight and eventually have health issues. Keep treats to the smallest possible nibble to avoid overfeeding. You might also need to adjust how much regular food you feed your pet to account for the treats used in training.
2. Give the treat while pet is in position – To reinforce the right behavior, give your pet the treat when they are in the position you want. For example, if you are teaching your pet to lay down, give them the treat while they are down on the floor in the appropriate position.
3. Approach tougher tasks in steps – Some training tasks might be more difficult for your pet to understand or become accustomed to. One example is training your pet to wear a harness. The process of getting your pet used to the harness and eventually wearing it can take a number of steps. Give treats at each step of the way to lead them through to complete the task.
4. Try luring – Luring is a method of using the treat to get your pet to follow an action. Examples include teaching your pet to sit or roll over. When you want your pet to sit, let them smell the treat and slowly lift it over their head. They’ll follow it with their nose and instinctively sit down. Once they sit, give the treat.
5. Avoid distractions – If you’ll be doing training sessions outside, choose a quiet place where your pet can focus on you more easily. A place like a busy park is not ideal for training because there are a number of potential distractions such as squirrels, birds, children running and playing or other pets nearby.
6. Keep treats out of sight – If your pet sees you approach a treat jar and anticipates the coming reward, you are more likely to teach your pet to perform the desired task only when they know a treat is forthcoming. One way to avoid this is to carry treats with you using Bark Appeal’s Treat Pouch. Keeping the treats with you also helps your pet remain focused on you.
7. Use the phase out – Once your pet has learned the desired behavior, it’s time to start phasing out the treat reward and using affection and excitement to positively reinforce the new behavior. To phase out, provide the treat less frequently over time until you are only providing the treat once in a while and instead using non-food related rewards like petting and encouragement.
These 7 tips will give you a great start in training your pet using treats. It’s important to set the right environment so your pet can focus on you and reward them for difficult tasks in small steps as needed. Have a really fun task you’ve trained your pet to do? Tell us about it on our Facebook page.