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Treats the pawfect training tool

The concept of using food to train is often considered a form of bribery. The fact is that dogs adapt to whatever works best! If you know how to use food, your dog will offer the right behaviour to get it. Else you might end up with a dog who demands a treat or an assurance of one for everything you ask him to do. Here’s the right way to use food/treats to train your dog.

Is using treats good or bad? I would say it is good if you know how to use it. The idea being that you make it another tool in your armoury of training aids. Over dependence on any one tool is not good for training in any case.
Just like us, dogs learn what is right and wrong from their experiences. Dog training involves encouraging the ‘right’ behaviour and discouraging the wrong/undesirable behaviour. This means there should be a substantial difference in what the dog experiences when he offers the right behaviour as compared to the wrong behaviour.
The positive reinforcement…
Traditional training methods involved giving strong corrections so that this difference would be clear to a dog. Using treats adds value to your praise, this makes the difference between desirable and undesirable behaviour clear to the dog without the use of excessive force. Using food to praise the dog when he does right reduces the need for strong corrections.
Of course, treats are the main tool in training with the positive reinforcement techniques. You lure and manipulate the dog to do what you want and then reward him at the right time. The key is timing; the dog needs to understand clearly exactly which behaviour you are marking (that is where a clicker is very handy). The key is that the behaviour should bring out the treat and not the other way around. Avoid luring your dog in to a command, except in the forming stage where you are teaching him the basics of what is ‘sit ‘ or a ‘down’. At other times the dog should just perform the command given, the treat should be like a bonus.
Treat vs. other tools…
One could argue that you could use a toy (ball/tug) instead of food. I agree, but for that you need an experienced trainer and a highly driven dog. For a new trainer and a distracted dog – food works best. Also with a toy, you need to first get the dog on to a toy, and then make him feel it is of such value that he will offer to do anything for it. The skills required for training with a toy are more complex too. You cannot use it to make a ‘sad’ dog ‘happy’ – you would end up rewarding ‘sad’ behaviour! Additionally, when you reward with a toy you are forced to break the behaviour the dog is offering (picture a dog running after his toy) as against food where the dog can continue offering the behaviour (dog is on stay, gets his treat and continues on stay).
So, no matter what training method you use, if your dog is keen on food – use it. It will only
make your job easier. The trick is to use it well.

Tips on how to use food in training…

  • Right timing: The dog should be hungry when you take him out. There is no sense in offering food or treats to a dog who is satiated before you get him out.
  • Love thy treat: The treat you offer should be of high worth to the dog. If your dog gets ‘biryani’ for all his meals, there is no way he’s going to be lured by ‘plain rice’. Few suggestions are – cheese, boiled egg white, premium food kibble, liver, steak, etc.
  • Treat size: When we offer treats to our dogs they should not be too big or too small. Too small will be insignificant for the dog, and the dog might not find it worth to offer behaviour for it. On the other hand, if the chunks are too big, the dog tends to spend too much time chewing on it. This stops you from keeping him on track and breaks the momentum.
  • The fun factor: When offering food, make it exciting for the dog. “What’ve I got,” “Yippee” or some other phrase that gets the dog going and then play a bit with the dog when you offer the food. Don’t just shove it into the dog’s mouth.

All the best and happy training!
(Philip A Butt is CEO of Commando Kennels – Hyderabad, India’s premier dog training kennel. He has pioneered many new dog sports and training techniques in India – Schutzhund, Flyball, Heel walk to music, Agility, French ring sports, to name a few. He is trained in “Arms explosive search dog training and Methods” at the United Kingdom Training Centre of Corporate Search Limited, Nottingham, UK. He also learnt techniques in positive reinforcement training at the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition. UK. As Joint Secretary of the Hyderabad Canine Club, he is an astute dog show organiser)

Treats: a way to good health

Treats become a way for owners to interact with their pets beyond their main meal. Dr. Pradeep Rana answeres Faqs on treats from a vet’s perspective

The benefits of treats towards a dog’s health are immense. Treats not only form a means for interaction but many dogs who suffer from debilitation are recommended treats that consist a lot of vitamins and proteins. The basic source of treats varies but they mostly contain nutrition and flavour or are raw hides. Problems like suffering from weakness and calcium deficiency in pups can be resolved by giving the correct amount of supplements in form of treats. Dogs normally do not like the taste of medicine and many owners have to resort to force-feeding their pets. Here, treats play a very vital role.
Q : What are the benefits of treats?
Dr. Rana : Treats benefit in more ways than one. Mostly treats help in building antioxidant, chondroprotective and oral/dental efficacy.
Antioxidants come in treats, which contain Vitamins C and E. They help to build immune system which is very important to fight diseases in dogs and help in better reaction to canine medicines. They also help build high level of energy.
Chondroprotective is beneficial for joints since they have high level of glucosamine and chondroitin. This is found naturally in chicken, beef and eggs. Joint and bones requirements are different. Joint treats are made to lubricate joints in old dogs who suffer from joint pain. Glucosamine and chondroitin helps to make the cartilage in the joint whereas bones treats are rich in calcium, which is an important requirement in growing pups for forming healthy strong bones and teeth. On an average, a dog loses glycogen, electrolytes and antioxidants like humans, which lead to fatigue and exhaustions especially during summers. Carbohydrates, electrolytes and Vitamin E and C found in treats can optimise stamina by replacing the added nutrition in his body.
A normal Indian household have dogs on home-cooked diet which are soft food giving rise to many dental/oral problems, which give rise to gingivitis, foul smell which then lead to digestive problems. Hence dental bones and chews is a ‘must’ recommended for dogs.
Q : What are the nutritional benefits of treats?
Dr. Rana : The nutritional benefits go like this. For bones, calcium and vitamins are important. For eyes, treats must contain Vitamin A while for a healthy coat, the treat should be rich in oil and fats containment. Dental tartar leads to many liver problems, hence dental treats and treats that are low in carbs should be given till the problem is solved.
Q : What kind of treats are good for dogs?
Dr. Rana : Treats should not be changed often, unless the requirement of the dog changes. If the pet is suited to a certain treat or likes it, much variation or experiment should never be done. Treats are present in a large variation but what the owner should look at in terms of treating for health benefits should be as per the requirements of the dog. If you have a pup, give him treats for protein, if he’s a debilities old dog, give him soft treats for joints. Similarly, dogs suffering from bad oral hygiene should be given dental treats.
Q : What ingredients are mostly found in treats?
Dr. Rana : Chicken, cr de protein, crude fat, crude fibre, grounded rice, soyabean
meal, grounded oats, barley, corn syrup, glycerine,
gelatin, edible fatty acids,
dry cheese, molasses,
artificial flavours, minerals, vitamins, supplements, biotin supplements, sodium, etc.
Q : What indigents should an owner look at before buying treats?
Dr. Rana : Calcium, minerals and other requirements in a healthy canine are made more palatable with chicken and other flavours are added to make dogs like and have them. A treat should always be given in certain fix amount or else
it will definitely lead to overweight or obese pets since treats are rich in proteins and fats. A treat containing high carbohydrates tends to make a dog put on weight. You should always look for a treat that is easy to digest. Pets react to total calorie consumption so that should always be kept in mind. Totally calorie consumption given to the pet works as : Daily diet = Food + treat + supplements.
If the nutritional requirements of the dogs are kept in mind, then this cycle shall never give rise to overweight pets.
Q : What ingredients in form of treats could be harmful to pets?
Dr. Rana : Chocolates are a big mistake. Treats in small quantity are good. A biscuit is better than “roti” since they might start replacing it with their normal diet. Natural vegetables treats like veggies or fruits can be given in very small amount like half a piece of apple. Some dogs can be allergic to certain food like milk or meat, hence all owners should read carefully before giving a new treat to the pet. Look out for the content chart to avoid any unnecessary casualties. Allergy information are also given on the packet of the treat most of the time.
Q : What are the feeding recommendations?
Dr. Rana : Depends on the treat, instructions are given on the packet itself. Small treats can be given 2-3 per 10-lbs. of body weight per day.
Treats were earlier based solely on hard baked biscuits. But as more and more variety are available, a responsible owner should understand the connection between nutrition and health. Benefit of treat on nutrition is to add the missing ‘factor’.
(Dr. Pradeep Rana is a well- renowned vet in Delhi. He has
his veterinary degree from College of Vet Sciences, Hebbal, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore. He is an expert in solving queries and curing pets.)