Training & Treats

Positive training has been steadily growing in popularity since the 1980’s. While it’s a highly effective and fun way to train, it does rely on food rewards to a great degree.  So how do you avoid unbalancing your dog’s diet or putting in more calories then are needed while Obedience training or practising basic good manners?  There are a number of strategies you can use.

First, just how food driven is your dog?  Some dogs will work hard for nothing more than bits of their usual kibble or what ever you choose to feed as your training treat.  Simply measure or weigh out your dog’s ration in the morning, dip into it throughout the day when ever you want to do training and use what ever is left over for the evening meal.

Some dogs require more motivation than dry kibble.  Before moving on to tastier offerings, try taking a handful of the kibble and putting it in a sealable plastic bag with a few pieces of some wonderfully smelly, tasty treat, for example liverwurst, ripe cheese, microwaved hot dog slices, what ever you can find.  Let the treat pieces retain their seductive aroma.  Then remove the food you added to the kibble and see if your dog finds the enhanced kibble more enticing and worth working for.  You are still using the dog’s normal diet with only a little caloric/nutrient tweaking.

You may have heard that it’s okay to feed treats and even table scraps as long as they don’t amount to more then 10% of your dog’s daily intake.  But what does that mean exactly?  10% by Volume?  By weight?  No, by food calories.  Do you know how many calories are in one cup of your dogs kibble or in your dog treat?  Probably not.  But you can find out this by first checking the packaging.  Some companies do provide this information.  Be sure the calories are for the food, as fed, not some laboratory analysis.  If the package doesn’t tell you calorie count, visit the company’s web site.  Many manufactures now provide all sorts of additional information on their web sites to help you understand all the ingredients in the kibble or call the company toll free and ask.

How many calories should my dog have in it’s diet?  It all depends on your dogs age, size and activity level.  Most good brands of dog food should have a guide to help you with this.  Also your Vet should know.  Giving your dog fresh cut up veggies or fruit, is a better idea than giving them a reward of pet store treats, like Rollover, which tastes wonderful but is full of calories.

To help you avoid too many treats, with their potential calories and diet imbalances, consider using rewards other than treats.  While most reward based training automatically recommend treats because they’re fast, easy to use and work with most dogs, others advise a wider variety of reward possibilities.  Even if your dog is food motivated, mixing it up so that you sometimes reward with play is a good idea.  Using play when you can doesn’t just cut out the calories, it helps bond you to your dog.  So find a game that turns your dog on and use them in your training.

Finally, realize that a continuous schedule of reward should be used only while training a new skill.  Once behaviour is put in place, the schedule of rewards should become random.