Karen Wild: Do dogs need any treats?

Karen Wild column EMN-140715-124751001
Karen Wild column EMN-140715-124751001

I am a big fan of social media, especially Twitter. For those of us not familiar, Twitter is an online network where you can type brief comments or photos and other people see them, adding their thoughts to the discussion. No statement can be longer than 140 characters, which adds to the excitement! It is a fast moving river of ideas and thoughts. No, my dogs do not use it, but many of their owners do (and some pretend to be their dogs as well). Last week a comment popped up on my Twitter feed 'My dog does NOT need treats. He does things for just love'.

As you know, modern, decent, ethical trainers use rewards, or 'reinforcement', as a means to get our animals to do things for us. Many goodies are on offer as a means to offer these to your dog. All dogs need to eat, so why not use food as one of those reinforcers? By definition, something we want, we will work to earn (and work out how to gain them). Dogs are no different.

'Treats' are probably mis-named as the sound of them puts people off. Imagine being offered a cream cake every time you did your job properly each day? Sounds good? Only if you like cream cakes and aren't worried about your health, perhaps... Pint of beer, instead? Roast dinner? Only you can decide which of these would constitute a worthwhile thing to work for, and it may or may not be a 'treat'. Humans like to work for money, since this allows us to choose our 'treats' at the end of each payday.

Food is a necessity, that you mostly provide for your dog. Some food is tastier than others. Some dogs love food, others just eat it. A 'treat' for them might be playing with a ball. Rarely, however, would we train a dog with something as invisible as 'love' and expect them to work hard. After all, if your boss just patted you on the head and said 'Nice job' each day, with no money, would you stay working for them for long?

Pay your dog wages, not 'treats' for the job you are asking them to do. Work out what wages they enjoy, be it food, games, chews, walks, fuss, or all these. Food is quick and easy to use, and very varied. Chicken will often be much higher value than boring dog biscuit.

To train your dog properly, use a combination of these wages that help your dog to link an action with the resulting reinforcement. 'Sit=biscuit'. 'Sit when visitors arrive=chicken'. 'Come here=chase a thrown ball'. And so on.

Dog training is not difficult, when you understand their views on wages, treats, and 'just love'. Happy teaching!