Training Treats 101: The Role of Rewards in Dog Training

Has your playful furball turned into a stubborn pet refusing to follow commands?

Or maybe you’ve been trying to teach your new puppy some basic commands and manners, but all your efforts seem to be falling on deaf ears.

We get it, training a dog can sometimes feel like trying to convince a toddler why vegetables are better than candy – almost impossible, right? But what if we told you there’s a secret weapon in your arsenal, something that can turn the most disobedient dog into an obedient fur angel?

And it’s probably sitting right in your kitchen pantry or pet food drawer right now. Let’s unravel this secret and turn your training sessions from a tug of war into a joyful bonding experience.

brown dog wearing a hat made out of training treats

Why Are Treats an Effective Training Tool?

Treats, those little morsels of joy, are not just good for spoiling your dog, but they can actually be an incredibly effective tool for training. Here’s why: Dogs, much like us humans, are motivated by rewards.

They associate good behavior with good outcomes. So, when they sit on command or stop barking when asked, and get a tasty treat in return, they’re more likely to repeat the behavior.

Think of it as a sort of doggy diplomacy. You’re not forcing your dog to obey you, but rather negotiating. “If you do this for me, I’ll give you that in return”.

And let’s be real, who can resist a delicious snack? This is positive reinforcement, and it’s scientifically proven to be highly effective in training dogs.

Just remember, while treats are a powerful tool, they’re not a magic wand. The way you use them, and the balance you maintain, can make all the difference. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered on how to do just that. Stay with us as we navigate the art of dog training with treats.

Timing Is Everything: When to Reward Your Dog

Timing is a crucial element when it comes to treating your dog during training. Treats need to be given at the right moment to create a strong association between your dog’s behavior and the reward.

The best time to give your dog a treat is immediately after they’ve performed the desired action. If you wait too long, your dog may not associate the treat with their good behavior, and the training opportunity could be lost.

Let me share a little story with you. A friend of mine, Jane, was struggling to train her dog, a lively Beagle named Spot. She would command Spot to ‘sit’, and when he finally did, she’d take a moment to praise him, rummage in the treat bag, and then reward him. By the time Spot got the treat, he had no idea why he was getting it!

I advised Jane to keep the treats handy and reward Spot immediately after he followed the command. The change was almost instant. Spot started responding to the ‘sit’ command more consistently, having made the connection between his prompt obedience and the tasty reward.

Avoiding Overindulgence: Treat Size and Frequency

While treats can be a great motivator, you must try to avoid overindulgence. Giving your dog too many treats or treats that are too large can lead to weight gain and other health issues.

So, how do you maintain the balance? The key is to make treats a small part of your dog’s daily caloric intake, generally no more than 10%.

Here’s a little tip from my own experience: use small, pea-sized treats. You want the treat to be an instant reward, not a five-minute snack break.

I once helped my neighbor Tom train his adorable Dachshund, Daisy. Tom was using large biscuit treats that Daisy would take time to munch on, disrupting the flow of the training session. I suggested Tom switch to smaller treats.

Not only did this keep Daisy’s attention focused on the training, but it also ensured she wasn’t consuming too many calories. It was a win-win!

Remember, it’s all about balance. Treats are a tool, not a meal substitute. Use them wisely, and your training sessions will be much more effective.

Balancing Treats With Other Forms of Reinforcement

While treats can be an excellent tool for training, they shouldn’t be the only form of reinforcement you use.

Combining treats with other forms of positive reinforcement like praise, petting, or playtime can make your training more versatile and less dependent on food. This variety can also help keep your dog’s interest piqued during training sessions.

Going back to Jane, with her lovely Beagle, Spot. He was so motivated by treats that Jane was concerned about overfeeding him. So, I suggested incorporating a game of fetch into their training routine.

Luckily, Spot loves to fetch almost as much as he loves treats! Whenever Spot followed a command correctly, Sarah would sometimes throw his favorite ball instead of giving him a treat. This not only diversified Spot’s rewards but also helped burn some of that endless energy.

The result? A happier, healthier, and better-behaved Spot.

Your next step should be our guide to choosing the right training treat, in which we focus on nutrition and taste with a lot of practical tips.


Can I use human food as training treats?

While some human foods can be safe and effective training treats for dogs, it’s crucial to know what is safe for them to consume. Cooked chicken, turkey, or fish cut into small pieces can work well, but always avoid foods toxic to dogs, like chocolate, grapes, or onions.

How many treats should I give my dog during a training session?

A good rule of thumb is to ensure treats make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake. The number of treats given during a training session can vary based on the dog’s size, diet, and the length of the session.

Are training treats bad for my dog’s health?

Training treats can be a healthy part of your dog’s diet when used correctly. The key is to choose high-quality treats and ensure they only make up a small portion of your dog’s overall diet to prevent overfeeding.

Can I use treats to train an older dog?

Absolutely! Older dogs can be trained using treats just as effectively as puppies. Remember, it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks, and treats can be a great motivator at any age.

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