Should you use food to train your dog or puppy?

dog treat on nose(Photo by JJ Losier)

What have you heard about using food rewards when training your dog? You’ve probably heard all sorts of conflicting information, but I’m here to tell you that using food rewards is key to gentle, effective dog training.

It’s something that many people never actually get clear in their minds and yet it is one of the most powerful topics to understand and also very simple to master!

What I am about to explain in this article may surprise you but also make total sense. This is a key training tool used by service dog organizations like Paws with a Cause.

Firstly, let’s look at the comment that you should never use food to get your dog to respond to you because your dog will then only listen to you if you have food in your hand.

This is simply not true.  Doggy Dan, the world famous dog trainer from, tells me his dogs listen to him whether he has food or not, yet he trained them all initially with food rewards.

The reason you can start by using food is because once your dog has learned to respond to your command without thinking about it, you simply fade the food out gradually.

That’s such a simple, yet powerful tip, let me say it again:

Once your dog has learned to respond to your command without thinking about it, you simply fade the food out gradually.

Fading the food out is such an important concept, at Paws with a Cause it is also referred to as using ‘random rewards’.  In a nutshell you simply start giving your dog the treat from inside your hand so they can’t see it.  Then you slowly start to reward only every 2nd and then every 3rd time. Eventually you can space out the treats until they become random rewards.

In a separate article I’ll explain how to boost your results with the random rewards and leave your dog totally focused and awaiting your next command without using up all your food too fast! So look out for that one…

The second myth about using food is this: “dogs should just be happy to work for you without any food rewards”.  I have heard this said and I have noticed that it’s nearly always said by people who have not owned or trained many dogs or by people who are quite happy to use a lot of force, fear and aggression in their training.  This approach was the “old yank and crank” way – that dogs should just be obedient or else. Thankfully this is not the way to teach your dog anymore.

Let’s look at the “yank and crank” or the no food reward thing in human terms.  How long would you work for nothing?  Not long I am guessing!  For many dogs that’s exactly how they see it.  They get bored working so hard with absolutely no reward in return.  bored easter puppy

Now not all dogs need food treats, some dogs are just so happy to please and with them the rewards are optional.  However put very simply, dogs are all different. There are those who’ll do anything you ask with a smile on their face, and then those who are always thinking about their next meal.  With a dog who just wants to please there may be no need to use food rewards once they have understood what you want.  On the other hand, dogs who aren’t motivated for your pats, cuddles or their ball when they are racing around the park playing with other dogs are the ones that will seriously benefit from some very tactical food training.

By now you’re probably thinking that you’ll end up giving your dogs food treats all the time, but that couldn’t be further from the truth!  As I mentioned earlier when you understand how and when to fade out your food treats and use a boost- effect to maximize the use of your treats (which is another topic I’ll cover soon), you too will find your dog responding to you lightning fast every time.

So next time you are out with your dog feel free to use food as a reward when they do something good and don’t worry about anybody telling you otherwise.

But also remember to start to fading out the rewards over a long period of time.  There is no rush though, and we are talking months not days!  Eventually you may end up only using the food rewards every 5th time, then every 20th time…

And by the way, if you’re worried about them eating too much, simply take it out of their dinner so their total amount eaten during the day stays the same.

Hopefully that helps clear a few things up about the use of food.  It’s always going to be the number one reward for most dogs.

Soon I’ll explain how to boost the effect of using food rewards and also go into a little more about exactly which food treats will get the best results.  Again I can promise you that this simple trick will make you smile.

Of course if you are wanting a total dog training solution, reading about it can only get you so far.  If you want to see it all in action, with lots of videos, then I suggest that you check out our Doggy Dan complete dog and puppy training website.
And remember, we give you a FREE trial of the site for 3 days!  To get YOUR access now just CLICK HERE.


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