Using Treats to Train
Most trainers want their dogs to obey out of love rather than because they were beaten or bribed. But since most dogs love tasty treats, food has long been used as a training aid. There are basically three ways to use food: (1) as a lure to get the dog to perform a task, (2) as a reward for completing an already learned task, or (3) as reinforcement for behaviors offered by the dog (click and treat training).
Most people use treats and body language as a lure because it is the fastest way to entice the dog to perform a task. But beware: there is a huge gap between following a lure and obeying a command. To bridge that gap, learn how to enforce your commands with your hands, leash, and praise. This will also prove invaluable if your dog isn't interested in the treat because she's full or distracted.
In the classes taught at Amiable Dog Training (the school owned by coauthor Amy Ammen), beginners are shown how to communicate and control their dogs without the use of food. Amy feels that although there are many reliable training methods, after instructing 40,000 graduates over the course of thirty-some years, she favors this food-free approach. In her opinion, it stands the test of time for producing reliable dogs and satisfied students.
If you are reluctant to build your training foundation using a food-based approach or prefer not to use treats, don't. You, too, are likely to find it simplifies and improves your communication with your canine.
Clicker and Treat Training
Clickers were once used almost exclusively for training service and trick dogs to learn more complicated requests than is required of the average pet or even obedience-trained dog. However, today clicker training is much more mainstream, and trainers are applying it to everything from introductory dog training to complicated requests a rider makes of her horse.
How does it work? Simply put, when the dog does something desirable, she is given a signal (the click made by a plastic clicker) that the behavior is right, offered a food reward and, eventually, taught to do it on command, possibly without the food. For instance, if the objective is to teach a dog to sneeze, the trainer would wait for her to do that, click the clicker and offer a treat or other reward. Because of the power of association, soon the dog reacts to the sound of the clicker with as much delight as to the treat. Therefore, if the dog is working far away or retrieving and can't be given a treat, the clicker communicates that she is doing a great job. Of course, many people do the same thing with the word Good instead of the clicker. With animals who are unresponsive to verbal praise — such as rodents and farm animals — the clicker is an invaluable training tool, but a variety of methods are equally successful when teaching basic dog obedience.
The methods used in this book are those that have been developed through Amy Ammen's thirty-plus years of working with dogs of all breeds, sizes, ages, temperaments, backgrounds, and abilities. She is comfortable with them and has seen them work. If you prefer to learn more about clicker training, there are some outstanding books devoted to just that method. For a simple, effective and practical approach to clicker training for dogs, Amy recommends investigating the resources by Gary Wilkes (www.clickandtreat.com).
Training with Patience
Dog training is an adventure of sorts: never predictable, sometimes elating, and sometimes tedious. Be optimistic about your dog's potential, but expect progress occasionally to be slow or nonexistent. Don't, however, abandon your original goals and settle for meager results: Shoddy, half-learned obedience can cause annoying problems or allow them to fester. Many owners give up on training but later decide to give it another try — this time approaching it with far greater determination and achieving far better results.
Whether this is your first time around or your last-ditch effort, recognize that a degree of frustration is part of the learning process, and keep training. You may be five seconds from a learning breakthrough. Don't let your frustration or impatience get the better of you!
Finally, learning anything new — including how to train your dog — is challenging, so show yourself compassion. For example, Amy has been training dogs for over thirty years, and though she doesn't want to make mistakes when training, she admits that sometimes she does. Her philosophy is that if she attempts to train, she may make a mistake, but if she never tries, she'll never have the dog she really wants. Her goal: Decide what kind of behavior you want and pursue it with patience and kindness.