The treat is the consequence (reward) for the behaviour,
not the cue to get the behaviour.
One of the ultimate goals in training your dog is being able to trust that they will do as asked without needing a food reward every time. What dog owner wants to walk around with a pocketful of treats everywhere they go, for the rest of their dog's life? That's not very realistic.
When training your dog a new behaviour, first you GET or CAPTURE the behaviour, often by luring your dog into the position you want. Once in position, you mark the behaviour with a verbal YES, wait a second, then reward with a treat from your non-luring hand. Don't pay with the lure. This is bribery, and your dog will learn to only commit to a desired behaviour if he gets the bribe (see my blog called The Anatomy of a Training Session for a deeper dive into the mechanics of training).
Luring versus Rewarding
Incorporate real-life rewards from the very beginning - examples are below.*
Luring is used to train a variety of behaviours, and should only be used to get your dog into the position you want so you can pay for that wanted behaviour with a reward. Behaviours you can get through luring include SIT, DOWN, STAND, MIDDLE, HEEL, TRICK TRAINING LIKE LEG WEAVES, and much more.
Try to keep your rewards hidden in a treat pouch, your pocket, or behind your back. Make sure you have instant access so you can PAY your dog for his good work within 1.5 seconds of your reward marker, YES!
When your dog is reliably performing the behaviour 8 out of 10 times (nobody's perfect.100% isn't reasonable), fade out the lure. Do this as quickly as possible. The hand gesture you used with the lure becomes a secondary cue, used only after the verbal cue (as a backup plan so you don't have to repeat the cue).
You can stink up your hand with smelly treats, but the food lure is no longer used to get your dog into position.
Keep rewarding (paying for) the wanted behaviours until you reach an 80% success rate, meaning your dog understands what you want him to do.
Begin randomizing your rewards. You are now being consistently inconsistent. Pay with treats, praise, fun, freedom, toys, etc. Pay every 3rd, 5th, 10th time (etc.). Every so often - not so often that it becomes an expectation - give your dog a JACKPOT, lots of treats, praise, a game of fetch or tug.
Here's another important tip for preventing accidental bribery. Make sure you have your dog’s attention before asking him to do something. Often, people resort to bribery because the dog didn’t respond the first time they asked – but when they asked, the dog wasn’t even paying attention. Ask your dog to LOOK at you, or say his name before you cue a behaviour. Ideally, do both!
Using Real-Life Rewards
Cathy Madson, MA, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, says, "professional dog trainers are always thinking about what the dog wants in each particular moment and then using that reward to encourage good behaviour. If you start incorporating different types of reinforcement into your dog training journey from the beginning, it will be easier to fade out food treats later on."
Once your dog is reliably responding to your hand-signals, begin to vary how he gets his rewards. Sometimes use a treat, but often times, use something else he’s telling you he wants – like his leash put on to go for a walk, his favourite toy to be thrown, or an invitation to join you on the couch. By using these types of life rewards, you’re teaching your dog that complying with your requests is the key to opening the door to everything good in his world – not just food treats. This also allows you to use food randomly – as a surprise or a jackpot – which is extremely exciting for dogs, and often motivates them to work even harder. Being consistently inconsistent creates a more durable response to your cued behaviours. Here are some examples*:
If your dog wants to go outside to explore, ask him to SIT and WAIT. The real-life reward is opening the door for them.
If your dog wants your attention, reward four on the floor - no jumping - with attention, praise, and petting. Ask for a SIT and reward that behaviour. Your dog can't jump up on you when sitting.
While out on a walk, you can reward your dog for keeping a loose leash by allowing him to go sniff whatever he's interested in. The reward for loose leash walking is also the journey ahead. Your dog wants to continue forward, and gets to do that, but only if the leash is loose.
If your dog COMES when you call him, grab a toy and play a quick game of tug or fetch when he gets to you.
Remember, the treat is the reward for the behaviour, not the cue to initiate the behaviour. Find out what your dog loves most and take every opportunity to reward for a job well done!
Yours in training,
Jayne has been informally training dogs for over 20 years. During the Covid crisis, Jayne completed her Professional Dog Training Certification Program at the Ottawa K9 Academy, and set up her business - OUTSIDE THE CRATE. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers (CAPDT), the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). She has also received several certificates of completion, including Game Changing Dog Training through the Karen Pryor Academy (facilitated by Terry Ryan), Unleashed Potential - The Core Excellence Program with Duke Ferguson, Trainers Supporting Shelters & Rescue Programs (APDT), Top Dog Academy (Ian Dunbar), and more!
Jayne is a positive reinforcement trainer who uses methods that are science-based, allowing her to adjust her training techniques as new evidence comes forward. Jayne avidly pursues continuing education and professional development by attending seminars and keeping current on all industry literature and trends. She will give you step-by-step instruction on how to train your dog in all basic obedience behaviours and good manners.