How to Give Treats When Training – Yes, It Matters!

AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer Hilarie Erb explains that the way you give your dog a treat as a reward is important during the training process.

Seriously? There’s a special way I have to give my dog a treat? If you are trying to communicate what you want your dog to do, then definitely “yes!”

Hold the treat in your fist so that just a little of it is exposed so your dog knows it’s there but can’t get it. It should be right in front of her nose, not a foot in front of it. This will keep your dog from moving forward, which is not what you want when teaching him “sit” or “down.” If she tries to come forward, keep your hand position firm, even moving it toward her nose to keep her in place.

The moment she’s done what you’ve asked of her, let her nibble off a tiny piece of the goody from your fist. If the treat is something that really excites your dog, it will be like having an invisible string tying her nose to your hand, allowing you to guide her into any position you want – power steering for your dog! It also lets you reward him at just the right moment.

Don’t throw the treat. She’ll get up to get it, and you don’t want her to think she can break that sit or down!

Holding the treat in your fist will also discourage grabbing of your fingers. Your hand will get licked and slobbered on, and it will be yucky, but don’t worry. You are washable! If she’s grabby, just enclose the treat tightly in your fist, and say “Easy!” or “Gentle!” and put your hand with the treat behind your back for a moment. Do not give any treat until she takes it gently. She will learn quickly that grabbing won’t get her what she wants.

Some people like to use treats cut into tiny pieces, but I find that having one larger piece takes less dexterity and digging in pockets when timing is of the essence. Using this method, half of a hot dog or one stick of string cheese is enough to get you through a 30-minute or longer lesson. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your dog will understand what you want!

For more training advice for your dog, enroll in the AKC GoodDog! Helpline, a seven-day-a-week telephone service staffed by experienced dog trainers: www.akcgooddoghelpline.org.