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Treats Gone Wrong

By Brandi Barker, MFA, CPDT
Updated: 2009-10-20 4:10 PM 2470 Views    Category: Training
 
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As a reward-based training advocates, we see remarkable transformations in canine behavior by tapping into each dog's top motivator(s). We find it is much easier to determine what is expected of your dog in troublesome situations and train an acceptable behavior than to punish a naughty act. It makes perfect sense, good is behavior is rewarded, it happens more frequently. However, it is important to think about the exact behavior you are rewarding. Before you toss that ball, walk out the front door, place a food bowl on the floor or deliver a treat; consider the behavior you reinforcing and if you want to see it again.
 
One of the easiest mistakes to make while training your dog is rewarding a chain of behaviors.  We have met many dogs who learn that nudging or tossing a toy onto their humans lap earns them play time.  Many unsuspecting guardians reward that behavior by tossing the toy down the hall to avoid other obnoxious behaviors such as: barking, jumping or destruction. They think they are teaching their dog appropriate manners.  Unfortunately, at that moment, demanding behavior is being rewarded.  Other common chain behaviors are [bark-stop-treat] or [jump-sit-breakfast] or [mouth-stop-chew toy].  Break chain behaviors by preventing bad habits.  If your dog likes to mouth to get attention during a favorite TV show, have your dog "sit" and give a chew toy before you sit on the couch for the evening.  
 
Another common pitfall is using food around other dogs.  We encourage our clients to use life rewards to reinforce good behavior but do find treats are an easy reward to carry on leash walks.  We never recommend taking them into a park or other area where dogs are interacting.  It can encourage other dogs to jump on you, or even worse, a dog fight.  Never use a treat to get your dog away from another dog. Food is a very high value resource and could easily cause a serious fight resulting in injury to human and dogs. We use a rule of five feet between two dogs at all times to assure there's no resource guarding over a morsel in one of our client's hands.
 
Lastly, for some dogs, high powered rewards can bring out beastly behavior.  If you see any aggressive tendencies over food, bones toys  or other resources, immediately seek professional training help.  Until you meet with a canine behavior professional, be careful about giving or taking resources with your hands.  Some resource guarding dogs will guard kibble and treats while it is still in their guardian's hands, very dangerous.  
 
Reward-based training is fun for dogs and humans and truly encourages good behavior.  Just make sure to reward the right behaviors and your dog will continue to progress with every training session.
 

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With the last name “Barker”, Brandi was destined to work with dogs! A lifelong animal lover; she formally began training dogs in 2001 when she completed her apprenticeship at the Anti-Cruelty Society. In the classroom, she honed her interpretation of canine body language, developed a toolbox of effective behavior modification techniques and fine-tuned her communication skills with dogs and people while only using reward-based techniques.
 
 www.barkerbehavior.com
 
 
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