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I Am a Treat Trainer

I Am a Treat TrainerWhen I was 11 my dream came true! I was in the car with my father, who is an orthopedist, so he had a cell phone, before I knew anyone else had one, but it was huge and you could always hear both sides of the conversation. Our family’s dear friend, the late Howard S. Kessler D.V.M. called my father to let him know that he had gotten his parents a corgi puppy as a gift, but they had decided after their last dog had passed, they wanted to travel. They were not eager to keep the pup if another home could be found. I couldn’t control myself, I was screaming at the top of my lungs that I was getting a Corgi puppy! A true dream come true for an 11 year old equestrian!

“Max” came to us less than a week later. He was perfect in my eyes in every way! He was a four month old Pembroke Welsh Corgi, he was fawn and white with a perfect lucky thumb print on the top of his head. I loved him from the moment I laid eyes on him! My mother told me if I wanted a dog I had to train (thank goodness she did!) So she took me to the book store and we picked out a dog training book. To this day i wish I knew exactly which one, but it was 1993, and the majority of people were training their dogs using choke chains. Somehow amongst all the other books we found one book that was a lure-reward book, and we weren’t even looking for it! We honestly just picked it because it wasn’t very long and had a lot of pictures showing how to train a dog to do specific things, while the other books were written descriptions.

I trained Max all his basic commands using his food and our bond was quite strong. He used to sleep back to back in bed with me, and I woke up every morning to walk him before I went to school. I loved him with all my heart, he was my best friend. Even though I loved him so, I still did stupid things; I was kid! I definitely put him in his crate when I was mad at him, and he definitely did not think of it as a happy place. I also thought a fun game was to chase him around my mother’s bed barking at him. I always thought he thought this was a lot of fun, but looking back I do realize it was probably quite stressful for him.

I know Max had his behavioral issues, but I can say as an educated dog trainer and behaviorist that his issues all stemmed from our lack of knowledge and using punishment as an easy solution. Unfortunately these choices had negative fall out, for example, even once Max was older and it would have been a lot easier to transport him to and from the vet in his crate, but he hated it, and it only caused more stress. Thank goodness he never had a serious injury and had to be confined. Don’t get me wrong, Max was a great dog with much more going for him, than against, but I just want to point out that our decisions on punishment had a lasting affect throughout his life, long after we used his crate for punishment.

Today I truly believe that part of the reason I am a dog trainer, besides Max, is that book. I love animals and always have, I think if I had tried training Max using forceable methods it would have upset me terribly, and I doubt he would have ever learned his commands, or I would be doing this today! There is nothing like the relationship that I built with that dog, and this is why today, I am a treat trainer; and when I work with my clients, I work to make them treat trainers too!

Too many people now a-days believe their dog is trying to “dominate” them, or they need to show him who is boss. I was 11 years old when I trained my dog, not only would it be very wrong for me to have ever tried alpha rolling Max, but it would have been incredibly dangerous. Even if you are an adult, why would you want to risk something that could potentially result in pain for both you and your dog?

Some people might think that treat training doesn’t stick with dogs, or it is an easy way out, but I can honestly say that using treats effectively is the same thing as using punishment effectively; without the negative fall out. If you train with treats properly you can, and should fade them to become sporadic life rewards as your dog knows the behaviors you are looking for. I can’t even say how many times I have seen people who use a prong collar for their dog’s entire life, or complain that their dog only behaves with their shock collar on. This is the same problem as a dog who only responds when you have food in your hands, it means training, or punishment has been used ineffectively. The difference is if you use treats ineffectively, the most serious risk you run is an obese dog, and while this not something that should be ignored it is far less serious than when punishment is misused. When punishment is misused you can teach your dog to hate children, other dogs or even their own leash. Negative associations can happen in one trial, all it takes is one choke chain jerk in the presence of a child to forever change your dog’s mind about children.

I am a treat trainer because it is a scientific fact that we can change a dog’s conditioned emotional response using food. We can follow something your dog finds unpleasant with his favorite things and hopefully through counter conditioning we can make this thing less unpleasant. So you can try your choke chains first, and then I can tell you to prepare yourself for a lifetime of treats at the ready to counter condition anything you have trained your dog to hate with your leash jerks. But that sounds like an awful lot of work! Perhaps trying the treats first isn’t so bad?

I am a treat trainer who believes that sometimes punishment is necessary, but I will say that punishment is never necessary for something you have not trained and proofed with your dog! This means that it is not ok to jerk your dog on a prong collar for pulling on leash, if you have never even taught him that you want him to walk by your side. I will never say that the use of painful punishment is necessary, so I will never condone the use of a prong collar, but sometimes punishment is necessary. Punishment should never be harmful or scary, and if you have to use the punishment more that a few times, it isn’t working. The definition of punishment is to lessen behavior, so if the behavior isn’t decreasing, than your punishment isn’t working, it is that simple. Even if you are shocking your dog every time he does something wrong, and he keeps doing it, the punishment is not effective, and really cannot be classified as punishment, it is really harassment.

I am a treat trainer who has a rescue dog who could be described as not that food motivated. Guess what? I can still find things that she is excited about! I have to be more creative than some other dog owners, but I can certainly find things she is eager to work for, such as bacon. You don’t need to jump to bacon if your dog will take treats but the point is there will be a point where your dog is hungry enough, and the reward is good enough to strike his fancy.

I am a treat trainer who has used to treats to train dogs to sit, down, stand, look, stay, come, leave it, drop it, take it, find it, heel, speak, quiet, hand target, retrieve, give paw, high five, roll over, play dead, on your side, stick ‘em up, bow, crawl, ride a skateboard, put his head in a person’s lap, walk with a wheelchair, alert a deaf owner to doorbells, and other alarms, signal a visually impaired person to safety, stay home alone comfortably, get used to his crate, not bark at the doorbell, walk nicely on leash, not be shy or anxious about strangers, to get along with other animals such as cats, to adjust to a new baby, or get used to a wobbly and unpredictable toddler, not to chase squirrels, or bark at traffic, and even counter act aggression against people, children and other animals.

I am a treat trainer and nothing will ever change my mind about that!

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