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Dog Training Using Treats

Updated on February 20, 2018
annerivendell profile image

Anne has a BSc Hons in Applied Psychology (inc. animal psychology) and has trained dogs, cats, rabbits and donkeys over the past 40 years.

Using Treats to Train Your Dog

In this case, I'm using raw carrot
In this case, I'm using raw carrot | Source

Summary of Points

Praise and attention is often reward enough
Don’t use regular mealtimes for training
Don’t feed your dog more than 3 treats per day (although this will restrict your training activities)
Watch how animals train their own young
Treats can work for older, timid or nervous dogs
Treats can also work well if you need your dog to obey you right away

Train you dog

If you are to have a fun and rewarding relationship with your dog, then they must be properly trained. This is particularly important if the dog is to be around children.

A dog who is allowed to do as they wish all the time will quickly come to believe that they are the alpha member of the “pack” and this can actually lead to a dangerous situation, whatever the size or breed of your dog.

So before you begin training your dog, you need to decide which method you will use.

Dogs respond well to praise and positive attention and the use of these are often reward enough.

However, some owners also like to use treats as an incentive and this can of course work well in certain situations. However, you will need to consider some of the following points before deciding on the use of treats when training your dog:

[1] a Dog Should Not Be Fed More Than 2-3 Treats Per Day

Using Treats When Training Your Dog

Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows that they love to eat.

This is why we regulate a dog’s food intake by having set meal times. So why not use this natural characteristic to our advantage and keep both the owner and the dog happy?

Well, firstly the dog’s meals should never become part of a training regime. No more than you would dream of rewarding a human by only allowing them to have dinner in return for displaying certain behaviors.

So you should always keep your dogs’ meals separate from any treats you might use in training.

Secondly, the experts tell us that a dog should not be fed treats more than 2-3 dog treats per day [1]. So this means that your dog training activities are seriously limited in any one day.

Furthermore, you will never see the parents of animals in the wild reward their offspring with treats.

Training takes place naturally and organically where the young learn by imitation and by approving grunts and licks or disapproving growls and (usually) gentle nips or cuffs [2].

Having said that, punishing your dog by hitting or hurting them in any way is not recommended. In fact, this can often result in a nervous and/or aggressive animal.

[2] Young learn by approving grunts or disapproving growls
[2] Young learn by approving grunts or disapproving growls | Source

When to use Treats for Dog Training

There are some situations though where the use of treats when training your dog does have some advantages:

  • If you are training an older dog that has never been trained before,
  • or if you are training a particularly nervous or timid dog

then using treats can help the dog to understand that you do not pose a threat or mean them any harm.

However, once a relationship of trust has been established, then it is a good idea to gradually withdraw the treats and replace them with praise and positive attention. This strengthens thae relationship between you and your dog and makes for more lasting and durable behavior.

There can be other (though usually rare) situations where food is the only way to control your dog.

For example, the prospect of a hunt can be irresistible to many dogs particularly if they have picked up the scent of a rat or a rabbit. In this situation the only way to distract them may be to offer them a treat.

However, if you have already established a trusting relationship with your dog, in which they regard you as the alpha of the pack, then a simple command to return to you should suffice.

In summary

So, to summarise:

  • Praise and attention is often reward enough
  • Don’t use regular mealtimes for training
  • Don’t feed your dog more than 3 treats per day (although this will restrict your training activities)
  • Watch how animals train their own young
  • Treats can work for older, timid or nervous dogs
  • Treats can also work well if you need your dog to obey you right away

It’s up to you

Whether you decide to use treats for dog training or not is up to you, but the expert advice indicates that the best results come from reserving the treats for particular situations.

What do you think?

Should you use treats for training your dog?

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    • annerivendell profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Thanks for your comment, Glimmer Twins Fan. Perhaps you might need to look at who is the boss of who in the relationship between you and your dog? A dog who will only respond to food as an incentive to obey a command is a perfect example of the problem with using treats. What do you do when you don't have food availible and you need your dog to obey you right now? Just a thought. I appreciate the feedback! Thank you.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      8 years ago

      We use treats to get our dog into the house. We have a large fenced yard and if he is interested in something it can take forever to get him in. When we shake the treat jar he always comes running. We do make him sit and stay before he gets his dinner, but after reading this, maybe we shouldn't. Nice hub.

    • annerivendell profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      @tipstoretireearly, yes, that's another situation where treats are handy and appropriate! @Paradise7 older dogs who haven't been trained properly before definitely respond to treats (yes, poor doggy. Some people should not be allowed to own dogs). @Maria Cecilia-I agree, some dogs respond differently than others. It's such a buzz when your dog obeys your commands for the first time! Thank you, all of you, for your comments.

    • Maria Cecilia profile image

      Maria Cecilia 

      8 years ago from Philippines

      Nice one and a real nice point to consider. I observed that with my two dogs before. two dogs different personality, My older dog can learn or can remember a trick when you always praise him when he did something, he is sound sensitive, he knows when you are happy with what he did and he'll surprise you one day he'll do it to get your attention, while my other dog will only follow if you have a dog treat available for her.. I found it really funny how different they but it was such one of the best days of my life...

    • Paradise7 profile image


      8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Good hub. I think with an older dog, treats may be okay to start. My cousin rescued a dog from the pound. The dog was fully mature, and its owners just had it tied up in the yard ALL the time. (Poor doggy.) The only way the dog learned "house" behavior was with some treats at first. My cousin got a dog trainer in to deal with it, and that's what she used, just at first.

    • tipstoretireearly profile image


      8 years ago from New York

      We've used dog treats for training in only a few situations. One good situation was at a dog park, where using a treat was about the only way to get our dog's attention away from the other dogs. Thx for the tips!


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