Why use treats in dog education

Me and Bono at doggy school. Bono's sitting, I go toward him to praise and pet him. There's also a Golden Retriever a few feet away.
I’m moving toward Bono to praise and pet him for doing such a great job at doggy school

I’ve always been generous with giving treats to my dogs. Sometimes even too generous, causing them to gain weight.

Then I discovered Dr. Ian Dunbar who explained that treats should be tiny. Ti-ny. He likes to use ZiwiPeak and break it each piece in four. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen ZiwiPeak kibble, I’ve seen it on video ’cause we don’t have it in France. But I’m telling you, these treats are already small as they are. And he still breaks them in four.

The point I’m trying to make is, your dog won’t get fat if you give him treats, as long as they’re tiny. Look for puppy treats, they tend to make them smaller. Or you can try kibble for small dogs, which is tiny in comparison to big dog kibble.

I’m a advocate of doing it yourself because you’d make healthier treats with no preservatives. I’d really like to tell how easy and fast it is. But it’s not. Personally, I haven’t been able to consistently bake treats for Bono, as much as I’d love to. But I’m cooking his food, so I’ve got that going on for me 😅

Anyway, let’s move on. Maybe you’re not worried about dog obesity, but you just want your dog to listen to you because he wants to, not because you’re giving him treats.

Guess what, me too. And Bono does what I ask of him because he wants to. I’m using treats to start a behavior. Then as he progresses I fade the treats away. Eventually, I’m only giving him treats once in a while to maintain the behavior.

For example, a few months ago I taught him to close the door. Initially I gave him a treat each time. Then I made sure he really understands, “Bono, the door!” in different contexts. When I’m one step away, two steps away, out of his sight and so on.

Now that he KNOWS the behavior, I only give him a treat sometimes when he closes the door. And I always praise him. I need him to know he’s done a good job and I’m proud of him.

But why can’t praise be enough? Why do we need to use treats to teach a behavior? Because most of us aren’t that good at praising. Myself included, although I’m doing progress. Just saying a blend, “Good dog” doesn’t cut it. If I can’t see the joy on that dog’s face, it means my praise isn’t enthusiastic enough.

What if you can’t tell if your dog feels appreciated? Just measure the results. Did your dog learn the behavior? Is your dog able to perform it under most conditions (including at the park and other distraction filled places)?

If he does, it might mean you’re awesome at praising. In which case you can forget everything I just said.

But if he doesn’t, dare to use treats.

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What if you don’t have time to train your dog

The past month I haven’t been doing a great deal of training with Bono. To be honest, I only did the one hour weekly group course and a little bit of, “Bono, close the dooooor!” thingy. I mean, dear Bono, I’m not your door lady 😀 Ha-ha-ha!

Actually, I’m so proud he knows how to close the door, that I insert this information in as many conversations as I can.

Co-worker: “My kids are just terrible, they won’t listen to me, they have no manners. I have no authority in front of them. I mean, I just don’t know what to do anymore…”

Me: “What are their ages?”

Co-worker: “I have a 3yo daughter and a 6 yo son.”

Me: “Did you know a dog is as intelligent as a 3yo? By the way, my dog has great manners. Look at this video of him closing the door. Isn’t he the best?”

Co-worker: “Sure, whatever…”

Ok, that’s not exactly how the conversation went. But, you get the point. I brag about my dog all the time. And my dog loves being bragged on, and he loves working.

This is one of the reasons I feel so guilty when I skip training. I deprive myself and my dog from a wonderful moment together.

It’s all in the internal dialogue. “Oh, I’m so tired, I still have to do this and that and work was so hard today. I don’t have time to train, buddy!”

And some days I believe it. But, is it true? Let’s see, a training session takes 2 to 3 minutes.

You really don’t have 2 minutes? In a whole day?

If you don't have 2 minutes, you have a bigger problem, honey

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Are you spoiling your dog?

Bernese Mountain Dog on the bed

I certainly am. For example, I let my dog on the bed in the morning.

I can do that because Bono knows “off the couch” and “on the couch”. I taught him since he was little that getting off the couch when I say so means good news.

It was easy. I simply told him, “Bono, off the couch!” and immediately dropped a treat on the ground. He got off to eat it, we repeated the process several times and eventually I didn’t even have to use a treat.

I still reward him from time to time for getting off the couch when I say so. This way he gets a variable reinforcement, which keeps the behavior from extinguishing.

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Bad dogs and how to socialize your puppy with umbrellas

Six years ago I’d never had a dog and I didn’t know the first thing about them. Dog socialization? Never heard of it. Dog training? I thought it was only for TV dogs to teach them tricks.

Then I met Fabien, my sweetheart. And he had an old dog, Chika. She was amazing and already educated, so I thought all dogs were like her. Except for the bad dogs, who turned bad because their owners were bad people.

Then we got our puppy, Bono. He was two months old when he became a member of our family. And hey, it turns out dogs aren’t born all educated. But before we figured that out, it was too late. It didn’t take long, only four months and we were in big trouble.

How come, you may wonder? Well, this guy is 100 pounds and he’d bark and lunge whenever we went for walks. Which made walks impossible. Which made the situation even worse.

Maybe the people who saw him on walks thought he was a bad dog. Maybe they thought we were bad people. I know I would have thought that. Before.

And indeed, Bono is not a good dog. He’s better than good. He’s a wonderful dog. He’s kind and cuddly and obedient and all the people who get to know him are forever in love with this pooch.

He’s just scared of everything new. New people, new dogs, new things and new places. We’re constantly working on his re-socialization and he’s doing better and better every day. We’re even allowed in doggy school, how about that? 🙂

And we… We’re not bad people. We just lacked the knowledge about dog socialization at the critical time when we needed it. There’s no one to blame for that. And I certainly learned my lesson in judging people.

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Socialize your puppy with hats

Joyful Bernese Mountain Dog puppy and human
Joyful Bernese Mountain Dog puppy and human
The human puts on a hat
The human puts on a hat
The puppy is worried because of the hat
The puppy is worried because of the hat
Treats rain from the sky
Treats rain from the sky
The puppy is happy and doesn't worry about the hat anymore
The puppy is happy and doesn’t worry about the hat anymore
Socialize your puppy

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