Why Treat Training Is Not The Most Humane Way To Train A Dog

I am a professional dog trainer. I make my living training dogs for clients, helping them solve behavior problems, and teaching their dogs obedience. I want to provide my clients the best service possible and as such I often check out what my competitors are doing in their dog training efforts. I have noticed, of late, that there are many dog trainers advertising ‘treat training’, ‘no pinch collars’, and other such training that they purport as much kinder, gentler, and more humane. The reality is that these types of dog trainers are the least humane and are doing their clients a disservice.

Let me start out by saying that I don’t advocate meanness, cruelty, or pain based dog training. I don’t believe they have a place in our industry. Having said that, I do believe that proper dog training uses two concepts in a correct balance. Those concepts are motivation and corrections. Allow me to give you a brief definition of both:

Motivation- Motivation is providing your dog an incentive to perform a certain behavior and/or a reward for a behavior that has just been completed. This could be verbal and physical praise, a treat, or a toy. I prefer to use praise because I can always have a kind word and a head pat handy and can’t always have a piece of hot dog or liver treat at the ready.

Corrections- Appropriate corrections may be a firm but fair jerk on the leash, a squirt from a spray bottle, or even a low level use of an electric collar. Corrections should not be used to cause pain or ‘beat’ a dog into submission, but to simply act as a deterrent for inappropriate behavior.

As I previously mentioned, there are many so-called professional dog trainers that do not believe in the use of corrections. Their belief is that one should only use motivational techniques to train a dog. Is this really more humane, though? The answer is no, and the reasons are the following:

1- How many of us live consequence free lives? When you arrive late to work is there a consequence? If you get caught speeding do you get fined? If you cheat on your taxes do you get put in jail? Of course! We live in a world that has consequences, both positive and negative, to all of our actions. Why should we treat our dogs any differently? Does it really make sense to say that the only negative consequence for your dog’s misbehavior is the withholding of a treat or praise? It is only fair to teach your dog that when he does something well he gets rewarded and when he misbehaves that there is a deterrent to that behavior.

2- Dogs have a set way to communicate. There is something that I always tell my clients- ‘Try as we may, we will never be able to bring our dog’s level of understanding and reasoning to that of a human level. We can, however, learn to communicate with our dogs on a level that makes sense to them.’ Have you ever seen how dogs communicate and discipline amongst themselves? There are plenty of growls, nips, paws and other such means of correction. Those that say that using corrections is cruel need only to look at how dogs communicate one with another. I am not a dog, however. I am not capable of correcting my dog by growling and biting his neck. I can use a training collar, though, and effectively give my dog a deterrent to disobedience.

3- Treat training can cost your dog his life. Dog training is not just about teaching your dog to sit, heel, lie down, and come when called because it is fun. These obedience behaviors are necessary for your dog to fit into your life and be safe when out in the real world. I have trained several dogs that are replacement dogs for previous pets. These previous pets were in pursuit of a ball, cat, or other distraction when running into the street. Their owners called in vain for the dogs to return only to have their dogs turn a deaf ear and get struck and killed by a passing car. What a horrible end to a pet’s life. Now think about what is going through your dog’s head as he is running after a delicious cat. “Let’s see, do I want to get a treat or would I rather catch the cat? I think I’ll get the cat.” The result can be tragic.

Please don’t do your dog a disservice. Train him with love and fairness, but use both ends of the spectrum. Use both motivation and corrections. Teach your dog that it is fun to obey but also that he must obey and you will find that your dog will be a great companion for years to come.

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