[/trēt/ Noun: Something that gives great pleasure. An act of providing something for somebody else at one’s own expense]
When you think of the word treat, what comes to mind? A nice Belgian Wheat Beer? A piece of dark chocolate? A day at the Nordik Spa? All of the above?
For my dog, a treat is a cookie that he gets as part of our daily routine, an off leash romp or a simple walk in the neighbourhood. Treats, however, have no place in our training regimen. We are not offering a special rare indulgence. In fact, if we treated our dogs when training, we would find it incredibly unsuccessful.
Before you start wondering if I’m about to start promoting some unsavoury training methods, let me reassure you that we absolutely do use food, toys and fun activities in our training. We call them reinforcements and we give them to reinforce the wanted behaviour. For example, a small piece of cheese can be used as a reinforcement for a behaviour and we must not be stingy with our training aids when our dog is learning a new behaviour.
The reinforcer is given as a consequence of the dog’s behaviour and consequently, makes him want to repeat said behaviour. The reinforcer is anything that the dog truly enjoys. It is also something that can be given quickly and enjoyed quickly (which is why food is ideal). My dog LOVES to play in the snow, but if I used this as a reinforcement when training a new behaviour, it would not make for an ideal training session. My dog also likes a good bum scratch, but this is not as powerful as a piece of cheese.
Most trainers I know love to use food because it is quick and easy to deliver, but for some dogs, the best reinforcer is a toy. Tugs are great in training, provided your dog loves the game !
What are some of your dog’s favourite things, that you can use as a reinforcer?
Remember that CONSEQUENCES (and not cues or what we used to call “commands”) drive behaviour!