If you ask qualified dog trainers from different training disciplines whether or not to use treats when training your dog, you will likely get completely different answers. Some will insist you should always use treats because it’s nicer, while others insist there are other more effective ways to train your dog and that treat training is silly. As with most things about dog training, I’m right in the middle and can see the pros and cons of both and will adapt my training approach depending on the people and the personality of their pup.
To me, there are two very different types of dog training that need attention and that two different approaches are needed. I call them Behavior Training and Skills Training.
Dog Behavior Training
Behavior training, as I think of it, are about behaviors your pup displays that are not acceptable. This includes things such as jumping on people, counter surfing, getting on your furniture if that’s something you don’t want, aggression of any kind, and any potentially dangerous or unwanted behaviors.
For dogs displaying these types of behaviors, it is imperative that your dog understands who the Big Dog in the family is – and it’s not them. Of course, this means that you need to be prepared to play to the role of the Big Dog.
Generally, this is where treats are normally not particularly effective because the dog winds up getting rewarded for the very thing you don’t want them to do. What is more permanently and rapidly effective is using correction techniques that let the dog know in no uncertain terms that those behaviors are not ok and will not be tolerated. Your pup needs to know that there are consequences when they misbehave and that they really need to listen to you, the Big Dog.
Dog Skills Training
In my mind, skills training includes obedience commands such as sit, stay, drop it, heel and the like, or tricks you want your dog to learn. When you think about it, these really are skill sets that are not necessarily natural behaviors your dog would do without training.
For this type of training, treats can be used initially as a way to begin introducing your dog to the new skill. Not all dogs require treats, but they can be handy if you happen to have a food motivated pup. The treat can be used as a lure to show your dog what you want them to do. Then, after they’ve got the basic idea, just saying “good dog!” or giving them a quick pat on the head is sufficient.