Treat training pros and cons
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Thread: Treat training pros and cons

  1. #1
    Senior Member Steve Shaver's Avatar
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    Jan 2003
    Cornish Utah

    Default Treat training pros and cons

    The video link below is of Billy (Cosmo x Fen Wizard daughter) learning sit means sit. Billy is 3.5 months old. This is Billy's first lesson at sit means sit so he is less than perfect but I think he did well for his first lesson. He does sit and wait for his dinner until given the OK.
    My focus here is treat training. I am not a big fan of treat training but I have seen pups with excellent response to treat training so I thought I would try and implement treats a little more. A recent video of Wayne and Rowdy as a puppy learning heel and sit with treats got me to thinking. I know this method came from Jackie Merten's video and also have seen Pat Nolan doing it. Both are trainers with great success.
    With that being said this is purely my opinion and observations. Although I do use treats at times I have come to the conclusion that I still don't care for treat training. When I do use treats I teach a command and then treat to reward the proper response. In the above mentioned videos the treat is used to LURE the pup into the desired response. I cant argue with success but this just doesn't sit right with me. Just seems to me that the focus is on the treat rather than the lesson.
    Another recent thread with the girl at an obedience trial with a young golden also had me thinking about this. That thread seems to have disappeared, cant find it. Anyway that pup is constantly looking up at the handler and her hands. To me this is not desirable but I do understand where and why it can be desirable.
    Now getting back to Billy's video. In one short 5 minute lesson you can see his concentration on my hands. Good or bad? Personally I don't like it. You can see him as I approach watching my hand and sometimes jumping for it. You could argue that this is part of teaching patience and waiting for the treat but I don't like it. In fact jumping for the hands is something I try to discourage so why encourage it with treats. When I have clients over and they come into the yard with my dogs loose the dogs will naturally go over to check them out and the peoples response is usually to raise their hands out of reach of the dog, kids are especially bad at this. Dogs natural response is to jump at the hands.
    Watch Billy at the end of the video when I try to throw him a fun bumper he is so focused on my hands that he doesn't even watch the bumper, twice and this is only with one lesson. So this was my short lived attempt at using treats to train. To me the cons out weigh the pros. Maybe I don't use the treats properly. As with every method you need to know how to use it and how to recognize proper or negative responses to get what you want. Treat training is just not for me.

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  3. #2


    Steve first off I think You have a really nice little candidate for training!! This what I do. I usually use hotdogs sliced about a quarter
    inch or thinner. I put 4-5 pieces in my mouth and alternate the hand I give the treat with. This way the dog don't watch You with Your hand coming out of the same pocket. Also have you thought about resistance training with a line hooked on the collar puppies learn this
    really quick. And one other thing I never call a puppy to come until they have a really solid sit and no what the word means.

  4. #3
    Senior Member afdahl's Avatar
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    Jul 2004
    North Carolina


    Just a couple of thoughts.

    I find when using treats with a secondary reinforcer (the classic is a clicker, but I usually just say, "yes!" since the clicker is one more object to look after) puppies/dogs don't look at or for the source of the treat, at least not until after the secondary reinforcer.

    Use of treats is a handy tool to have available. Sometimes it is the quickest, neatest solution to a problem. Right now, for example, I have a personal puppy (my first in several years!) and I am working with her on "hold." Actually I am working on getting her to let me put a dummy in her mouth. This youngster is very cooperative and agreeable in general, and has a great natural mouth. Yesterday she snagged a dummy I'd put on top of the well house, and ran around with it for fifteen minutes, maintaining a perfect hold the whole time. All good. But, this puppy resisted my placing a dummy in her mouth about as vigorously as any dog I've ever trained. No improvement in two sessions; she was just determined that her mouth is her business and she's not going to have anyone else putting stuff in it.

    The next step was pretty obvious, given that she licks her feed pan for about 10 minutes after the food is all gone. I forced the dummy in her mouth, immediately said, "yes!" and took it out, then gave her an extra-delicious salmon treat. A dozen repetitions and she was readily allowing me to put the dummy in her mouth.

    With a youngster this cooperative, I would far, far rather get her past her objection gently than have major set-tos, punishment, or a protracted struggle. Now we can move on with no fallout.

    Amy Dahl

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  6. #4
    Member CindyGal's Avatar
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    Mar 2012


    Steve, if you are going to use treats to train, a good skill to teach your pup is 'impulse control'.

  7. #5
    Senior Member Mary Lynn Metras's Avatar
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    Jul 2010
    Watford, ONT


    Steve Thanks for your clip. I like the way you work with Billie. I stop with the treats and clicker after I think they have the idea then do variable reinforcement with treats. I find like you they start to look at the treat rather than what they are to be doing. IMO Working on the sit like you and walking around. I have also resorted to Hillman's way of doing marks using the kennel as home base. He is getting the idea. First we did crate games by Susan Garrett then went into Hillman's use of the crate (my variation). Not a good camera person but here is a short clip. Mickey is 13 weeks today!

    Cindy Gal I must try some of those exercises. Very neat. Thanks for sharing.
    Last edited by Mary Lynn Metras; 01-29-2014 at 03:11 PM.
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  8. #6
    Senior Member
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    Aug 2013


    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Shaver View Post
    Another recent thread with the girl at an obedience trial with a young golden also had me thinking about this. That thread seems to have disappeared, cant find it. Anyway that pup is constantly looking up at the handler and her hands. To me this is not desirable but I do understand where and why it can be desirable.
    The reason you're seeing the dog look up at the handler, isn't just because there's a treat involved. In obedience training, one of the first things you train your dog, is that they must focus on you. So for instance, you work heeling on leash, where when you stop walking, the dog sits nicely in the heel position and looks up at you. Everytime you stop, the dog must sit at attention, and look up at you. In the beginning, it's easiest to get that focus with a treat. Throughout obedience, the dog is taught to do what you asked, and then focus on you for further instructions.

    It's a completely different situation than hunting, where you want the dog to focus on where the bird or the dummy ends up. In obedience, the dog needs to focus on the handler after every command. Food is a really good motivator for that

    Also, when training with treats, it helps to have a little clip on the belt treat container. The dog won't watch your fingers as much that way.

    With our Chessie, I do use treats to train him certain things. It's the easiest way to get his attention and help him understand what the command means. I transition away from treats and onto praise when I know he understands what I expect him to do.

  9. #7
    Senior Member
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    Aug 2013


    Also, as far as luring goes with treats, I have only found that to be effective the very first time or 2 when teaching a new behavior. For instance, with the "down" command, since the words don't mean much to a little puppy, saying the words and then luring the dog into the correct position by holding a treat in front of him and then moving that treat down to the floor can get the puppy to understand the command quite quickly. Once you can tell the dog knows what the command means, it gets annoying in my opinion. It seems best to move on then and treat after they perform the correct command, and not lure anymore.

  10. #8
    Senior Member Gun_Dog2002's Avatar
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    Apr 2003
    Mohawk Valley


    Treats and clickers work fine for puppies. Helps with the transition to adult training.

    Paul Cantrell
    Black Ice Retrievers
    Marcola OR

    Too many dogs to list (By some Bitch)
    "Helping Hunters Train Their Dogs"

  11. #9
    Senior Member Colonel Blimp's Avatar
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    Jun 2004
    Mid Wales UK



    First off, well done on posting a video of yourself and inviting comments; not everyone has sufficient intestinal fortitude to do so.

    It may well be that treat / marker / clicker isn't for you anyway, but right now you aren't giving yourself, Billy, or the method a fair shake. When you've given it a more intensive and practiced effort and judged the results as not worthwhile, by all means walk away. Like most simple skills, it's possible to fall into the trap of thinking that it's also easy, and approach things without really thinking them through or indeed measuring the outcomes. In your case I think you are falling between two stools; not doing the treat / marker / clicker thing quite right and not being comfortable with some of the possible effects anyway.

    Forgive me if what follows sound preachy and prescriptive it's all meant to be constructive and informative. So, some observations on what I see you doing, and where you might think it worthwhile to have a ponder......

    Massive overuse of the voice both for commands and praise. In the first three minutes I counted 50 verbal "sits", and any number of "good boy", "attaboys" and so on. If the dog is being rewarded for compliance with a treat, reward him with a treat, all that verbal input is just so much redundant noise and actually devaluing your voice. Within that input I didn't see any actual use of a marker instantly followed by a treat.

    When I treat a puppy for compliance, I regard that as the end of compliance. This isn't something determined by us trainers, it's decided by the dog. He doesn't have the mental ability to project forward along the lines of "I'll just sit still and then maybe I'll get a treat", all he knows is that a second ago he did indeed get a treat. So at this stage I wouldn't do as you are doing by making him sit for quite long periods almost as a test, so much as give the command then instantly mark and reward a good performance. Then let him walk a bit and repeat the exercise; that way he'll associate obeying the command with his treat which right now I don't believe he does. As Mary Lynn said, once he's got the idea, you can vary the delay in marking / treating.

    By the fourth minute he was showing some confusion and a bit of avoidance behaviour; the lesson was going on too long for him. In these early days I cut it out at three minutes but have a few sessions each day.

    Body language; all that walking around was redundant and not teaching him anything, it just added extra pressure he didn't understand and isn't ready for. At the same time your only cues to him were verbal, so he didn't respond well to "here". Give him some encouragement other than voice, and instantly reward him for compliance with a treat. Amongst all the "noise" another "good boy" isn't meaning anything. I think it's too early for "here" anyway, thats why when he fells uncomfortable, he comes in to you for reassurance. I either chuck the treat to the dog, or more usually walk up to him.

    There is a lot more, but I don't want to drone on all night, I just hope I've given you food for thought, and a realisation that the subject is worth further study. Like I said simple isn't a synonym of easy!

    Last edited by Colonel Blimp; 01-30-2014 at 03:27 AM.
    Thank you, very kind, Mine's a pint.

  12. #10
    Senior Member polmaise's Avatar
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    Jan 2009
    Stirling Scotland


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