One of the most common questions I get from owners is when to incorporate food into training. I am all for adding positive reinforcements into balanced training. After all, balanced training is rewards and consequences working together to teach a dog what behaviors we want and what behaviors just aren’t okay.
Let me take this moment to remind you of one of Everywhere Dog’s golden rules--rewards don’t always come in the form of food. Just because you want to tell your dog that he is being awesome, doesn’t mean you need to use treats, or even kibble.
My general rule of thumb when referring to any rewards, whether that be attention, physical touch, playtime, or food, is to use it when it will help, but not when it will hurt. You might be thinking “how could rewarding my dog hurt him?” Well, it won’t physically hurt him, but it could work against your training.
With most dogs, recall (calling your dog to you) is an area where food can be very valuable when training. When we call our dogs, they should come the first time we ask and fairly quickly. Adding in food rewards, or other high value rewards, can make this command super exciting, which typically adds speed and enhances response time from your dog.
With all commands, food needs to be phased out, and there should still be consequences when commands aren’t responded to properly. We don’t want our dogs to only respond when we have a hot dog in our hands, and they should not be getting away with ignoring their handler at any step in the process.
In all aspects of training, you should look to your dog to tell you what works and what doesn’t. If you pay attention, you will see that they are giving you cues. All dogs will respond differently to different training techniques, and it is up to us to determine if our methods are aiding in the process of a calm, well balanced dog or making that state of mind harder to achieve.
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