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Food is a natural motivator and very effective in the behavior modifications processes.  Dogs and cats are used to learning what gets them food..it is instinctual behaviour.  Used correctly treats results in consistently obedient pets that enjoy earning food.

How do I use treats:

  • Initially, reward is given every time the pet performs the desired behaviour with little delay.
  • Treats can also be used as lures at first.  For example to get your dog or cat to sit, you can let them sniff the treat and raise it up and back so that they will tend to sit.  When their bum touches the ground you let them have the treat.  After they understand that you use a smaller motion with your hand as a signal and the treat is kept in your closed palm and only given when the behaviour is preformed.  So the treat starts out as a lure or bribe but then changes to a reward.
  • After a behaviour is consistent then lower value food rewards, praise or intermittent food rewards or slightly delayed rewards are used.
  • If the pet doesn’t perform requested behaviour then no reward - try again later.  Resist the urge to say the command over and over or say it louder.  Saying sit, sit, sit, sit, sit will train them not to sit!

Good training treats should meet the following criteria:

  • very tasty, soft and chewy
  • small - 1/2 the size of your thumbnail
  • don’t necessarily all have to be the exact same size

Treats can be cheese, meat (not fatty meat), pet store products (Well Bites or Mini Naturals for dogs), tuna for cats, hot dogs, etc. Try a few types and see which ones the pet likes the most..  If your pet has special dietary requirements your vet or I can give you tips.   The preferred treat can be your high value treat that can be used when a pet is learning a new behaviour.  Once the behaviour is well established, lower value treats or even dog/cat food can be used for occasional reinforcement.  If your dog is nippy and not polite when being fed treats contact me and I can give you information on some helpful games.  You can also use a thin layer of peanut butter or cheese whiz on a long shoe horn to deliver treats (unless your pet has a sensitive tummy). 

Training exercises should be done before meals to increase motivation.  They should be kept short so your pet doesn’t get full and stop working.  For cats, 2-4 minute training sessions several times/day are suggested.  With dogs, 10 – 15 minutes 2 – 4 times/day.  Most dogs can become food motivated unless there are underlying anxiety issues.  Check with your veterinarian and see if it would be alright to fast your dog for 12 hours before training if your dog is not food motivated.  This would be for adult dogs and not puppies. Cats can be a little more difficult and should not be fasted long.   Changes in the exercise routine can all improve food motivation as well.  Praise, play and toys can also be used to motivate your pet.  Once your pet is performing well, then you will rarely use treats but can go back to them if your pet needs a reminder.

For cat training, see some of the video links in the article “Fun Things to Do With Your Cat”. 

Thanks for your interest and have fun training your pet .