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Are you Using Dog Treats Correctly?


Three common problems in canine households include pet obesity, excessive begging, and bad behavior based on poor boundaries.  Before you blame your dog (or its metabolism), ask yourself whether your use of dog treats is to blame.

Proper Use of Dog Treats
The main reason dog treats exist is because dogs learn best with reward-based training.  Since dogs also have voracious appetites, food as a reward is the most logical choice when it comes to training.  In fact, any time a dog is given a reward, be it food, attention, or affection, the pet will repeat any behaviors that preceded the treat or belly rub.  Proper treat use means only giving a dog a reward when it has been earned.  For instance, your dog may receive a treat for sitting and shaking on command, or for peacefully going into his or her crate.  Benefits of proper use of treat include:

  • Reinforcement of good behavior
  • Bonding between dog and owner
  • Improved confidence
  • Enhanced decision making
  • Better behavior
  • Understanding that improper behavior is not rewarded

Incorrect Use of Dog Treats
However, many pet owners associate treats with love.  When treat use is excessive, it can lead to the dog becoming overweight or even obese.  Even though the pet-owner is well-meaning in his or her intentions, providing your dog with too many treats without a training component may lead to health dangers, such as diabetes, kidney and liver disease, and thyroid disorders.

Additionally, a dog that is given treats without first being asked to perform a command will come to expect this treatment.  After all, the dog has no idea why it receives treats, just that a human occasionally gives a yummy piece of food away from time to time.  This action will lead to begging, especially if treats are freely given at the same time each day.  No matter what type of treat you give your dog (such as a post-dinner dental treat), always make your dog live by the “nothing in life is free” rule, and first ask for a command.  Always be consistent, because if your dog has to perform a trick half the time but is given a treat for no reason otherwise, then confusion about proper behavior can occur.  Finally, not asking for a command before treating your dog can accidentally reinforcement negative behaviors, such as barking or whining.  Disadvantages of improper treat use include:

  • Dog obesity
  • Begging
  • Reinforcement of bad behaviors
  • Confusion
  • Canine sense of entitlement

Changing Your (and Your Dog’s) Behavior
Do you recognize you and your dog in these descriptions?  Fortunately, you can change both of your behavior for more harmonious living.  First, if your dog is overweight replace calorie-laden treats with pieces of cooked carrot or green beans.  Next, only provide your dog a treat if he or she has performed a command.  This will reverse any behavior that leads to your dog expecting a treat.  More importantly, traditional begging behaviors will be replaced with more positive ones, such as sitting or lying down.

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Anna Weber

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