Using treats in training your dog – Part 1

Training dogs with treats as rewards should work effectively as long as the treat is something they really enjoy and have no access to unless they have performed the behavior you want to shape.

A training session should be enjoyable for both the owner and the dog. Remember to stop after a success in your session so that the experience will be associated positively for you and your pet. It is also important that any behavior that is “close” to what you want the dog to do, receive a reward, and within a sixty second timeframe for delivery of the reward, otherwise the dog doesn’t know what behavior you are rewarding. It is helpful to provide a prompt for the behavior you attempt to shape. For example, if you are shaping a sit command, gently direct the dog’s hind quarters toward the floor. Immediately reward the result with verbal praise as well as the treat. This creates an association between: the behavior, the treat and the verbal praise, so that eventually the verbal praise will function as reinforcement in place of the treat.

After you observe a behavior performed reliably each session, it is then time to move to the next level of behavior closer to the goal behavior, for example, progress from a crouched position for “sit” to near or complete contact with the floor, for the “sit” command. The previous behavior will no longer receive a treat, but the closer a behavior moves toward the behavior you want to train, a treat/reward and verbal praise is given for each approximation of that behavior.

This schedule of reward for each and every successful behavior continues until you reach the goal behavior you intended to train and then the reward/treat can be given at varying intervals, for example, instead of a reward for every successful “sit” behavior, provide verbal praise every time and a treat only every other time for the “sit” behavior. Continue increasing the number of “sit” behaviors required to receive a treat reward, until the treat reward no longer is given for the “sit” behavior, but always maintain verbal praise or physical “pets” for every successful behavior.

One trick if the behavior does not develop as quickly as hoped is to supply several treats and a lot of praise for one behavior (like a jackpot) and do that intermittently so the animal never knows when the “big reward” will be given. This causes behavior to continue and maintain far longer than a reward given at a fixed ratio. Much like a gambler has trouble with ceasing

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