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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Treats! Just about every book will tell you to use them as a reward, and yes, they are great at shaping behaviour. But how often do they actually help you shape the behaviour in the way you intended? Sadly nowhere near as often as you would like. But you say, dogs are not easy to train, maybe a higher value treat will help? It’s a fact that treats rarely have more than a very slight help in training. Your dog is really struggling to understand what it is that you want, until it just happens to hit on the right response and it clicks. “Great!” you say, “I’ve finally trained my dog!” No you haven’t, your dog has finally managed to work out what you want, and thats a different thing altogether. Your dog has train it’s self in spite of you rather than because of.

People think as people rather than as dogs. Words play a large part of our thinking, of the way we interpret the actions of others. But to dogs words are just sounds. They have no meaning until they can be connected with an action. Think this scenario for a moment. Your dog sees another dog. You tell it to leave, but it goes anyway. You think, there’s no point in calling him because he is not going to come back until he has finished his play, so you stand there twiddling your thumbs until he's finished then you call him back and when he comes you give him a treat for coming. But what does your dog think. "I just had a lovely play, then when I got back mum gave me a lovely treat! Isn't life good!!" He has ignored the command to leave, no bolt of lightening has descended from the sky and smite him down. So, "Obviously that sound "Leave" which I heard obviously means nothing. I can ignore it with impunity." But back to the treat, when did you give it to him? “I made him sit first.” OK then, why did you give him the treat? “Because he came back.” OK, think about what just happened.

1/ Your dog ignored the leave command.

2/ He ran off and had a lovely game.

3/ When he tired of the game he returned

4/ When he arrived back he sat on command

5/ He received his reward.

Now you might think you rewarded the recall, but he has done other things since then. The last thing he did was to sit, so to him that must be what the reward was for. Particularly since you trained him to sit by rewarding him with a treat when he sat! It all ties in, the treat MUST be for sitting! “Oh smashing!” he thinks, “I can do that.” You thought you were teaching a recall, but your dog thinks you were teaching him to sit. The recall was just an irrelevant aside!

So now you can possibly see why I said at the start, “But how often do they actually help you shape the behaviour in the way you intended? Sadly nowhere near as often as you would like.” Timing is king whether you are using treats as a reward, or voice or hands. Whatever the reward it MUST be associated with the required action, and to do that it MUST be applied immediately, no delay for anything. In my days of training and instructing Competitive Obedience the buzz word was “Back Chaining,” The act of breaking every element of an exercise down into the smallest possible pieces, teach each piece separately and only bring then them together when every part it learned by heart. Now look at the table of events above, four separate elements all of which could be taught separately, easy to handle, easy to reward and easy for your dog to learn. The leave command. (How often will that come in useful!) The Release command, (I use OK then) The recall, (Only ever use when you are pretty sure it will be obeyed. If you are not sure then put yourself in a position what you are able to enforce it.) And the sit command. Every one of those commands can be trained separately and rewarded separately and instantly. Think about what else you need to train. Just about everything can be broken down into small elements. Treats are so useful when training, but they MUST be used correctly or you are just making things difficult for both you and your dog.

Think about training, it does not just happen with no input from you, it’s two way thing. I’ve said it before. I never take my dogs for a walk. I go for a walk with my dogs, and that is a big difference!

3 Posts
This is very well explained, absolutely agree that timing is crucial, I start off with treats but will build value in a word which replaces the treats for timing. Something simple like YES does. And variation, change location so they learn that the behaviour is asked for no matter where you are. If that makes sense. Otherwise they may think that the behaviour is only required in the living room, if thats the only location you do it.

My amateur contribution.
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