Training and Treats: Tricks & Tips For Keeping Your Pup Happy
Nothing gets our pups’ tails wagging quite like the thought of food. If they’re not spinning up a storm while they wait, they’ve got their nose as close to our plates as possible while we eat. Personal space? Not in a doggo’s world.
Training and treats: tricks and tips for keeping your pup happy
Dog treats - why they love them
We can’t blame them. Canines and other dog-like animals in the wild are constantly looking out for their next meal. It’s a survival instinct that doesn’t go away just because they’re sat beside us on a leather sofa being hand-fed bits of ham. And how do we expect them to ignore that Sunday roast in the oven when their sense of smell is 10,000-100,000 times stronger than our own?
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So, it’s no surprise that food is such a great motivator for good behaviour. And when it comes to training, what better than some treats to help them learn? But you want to make sure you’re treating and training them right. Here’s our advice for making the best of this key part of your pup’s life.
What’s in a treat?
If we want to treat ourselves, sure, we might go for the chocolate or ice cream. But we know fruit makes for a much healthier snack. You need to keep that in mind when it comes to treating your dog.
Treats containing nasties - like derivatives, additives, or common allergens - may get the tail wagging in the moment, but they could also be damaging your pooch’s health or happiness in the long-run. We’re only humans (and pups); sometimes we can’t say no when there’s a delicious treat in front of us. Like someone with lactose intolerance ordering the cheesiest pizza known to mankind. Great in the moment, but not so much later on.
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Our pets are the same. Bald patches, rashes, and runny poos you have to scrape off the grass are just a few telltale signs that treats might be disagreeing with your doggo.
Similarly, you want to make sure the treats you’re offering are actually something they want. If they’re not being consistently obedient, it could be because they’ve just gone off them. It happens. If you’ve ever eaten a whole chocolate orange in one go, you’ll understand. This is why it can be helpful to trial different types of treats to see which your pup responds to best.
Maintaining a balanced diet
Even when you choose healthy treats, they can’t replace a balanced diet. We’re all guilty of falling for those puppy dog eyes and saying, “fine, one more”. It’s part and parcel of being a pawrent. But you need to be wary of overfeeding. You have to strike a balance between how many treats you’re giving in training and what you’re feeding them at mealtimes.
The 10% rule can be a good rule of thumb. Treats should only make up to 10% of their daily calories. Obviously, not all dogs are equal here. So the amount of treats making up that 10% will largely be down to your individual dog and what calories they need to thrive. If a 20kg puppy needs around 2,000 calories and a 75kg adult working dog needs closer to 5,500, for example, you’ll need to approach your treating habits differently.
If you think you’ve been over-treating and want to start kicking the habit, this is where smaller treats - or breaking up treats into smaller pieces - can be handy. Kibble is always a simple idea, too. Your pup still gets the treats they love, just with the calories spaced out a bit. It’s a win-win.
Using treats effectively
So you’ve got the treats they love and have nailed down the exact amount you should be giving them each day. Check and check! Next, it’s time to start using them more effectively.
There are plenty of tips, tricks, and hacks out there, but here are four of our favourites:
How treats can get doggo to 'sit'
The classic trick and a great starting point: sitting. To start, sit/stand in front of your pup and hover the treat in front of their nose until they catch the scent. Wait until that tail starts wagging. Then slowly lift the treat above their head. The idea is that as they lift their head to reach the treat, their body will naturally lower until they’re in a sitting position. As you do this, say the word you want them to associate the action with. In this case, it’s probably “sit”. This way, you link the word, the action, and the tasty, tasty treat.
Once their bum hits the ground, it’s time for their reward. After you’ve repeated this a few times, you want to stop using the treat as a lure - just using the command and your hand instead - and simply treat once they’re in a sitting position. Before long, they’ll be sitting like a pro!
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Using treats to teach your dog to 'Wait' by the road
Once your pup has learnt how to sit, it’s time to take your act on the road. Well, next to the road, at least. You’ll want to practice this in a quiet area, or even in a park that has paved trails.
Anytime you’re about to cross - whether there’s oncoming traffic or not - wait at the curb, get your pup to sit, and pause for a few seconds. Then you want to praise them, offer a treat, and move on. Keep repeating until sitting by the edge of the road becomes second nature.
Treats can help your dog to avoid distractions
Ooh, is that a bird? A cat? Another dog!? The world is exciting, and your dog can’t help but get distracted. This doesn’t exactly help with training, though. If your pup is ever fixated on a dog heading your way, you want to throw a treat behind you to distract them.
By the time they’ve found the treat, scarfed it down, and returned to your side, the distraction will be long gone and you can get back to your walk. Until something else catches their attention, that is.
Use of treats can encourage recall
This is one you definitely want in your arsenal. Otherwise, you’ll be chasing them across a field when they don’t come back to you. It’s especially important if your pup is the adventurous type. You want to practice this one indoors until they start to get the hang of it.
Encourage your pup to come towards you by patting your leg, the ground, or waving around their favourite toy. And just as they’re about to reach you, say “come” (or whatever word you like), and give them a treat and lots of praise. Saying “come” just before you put their dinner bowl down or as you grab their lead for a walk can be great ways to strengthen this even further.
Eventually, you’ll want to gradually increase the distance until you feel comfortable trying this out and about. Long leads in a park are a great, safe way to practice in public.
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No matter what tricks you’re teaching, it’s important to recognise how your pooch is feeling in the moment. If they’re feeling stressed, antsy, or simply sick and tired of training for the day, you can end up wasting treats and calories. Sometimes, it’s best to admit defeat and let your pup rest if they’re not being receptive.
Other treat ideas
Treats don’t always have to be food. Pup obedience can be earned by anything that makes them excited, such as a long walk, playtime with other dogs, a chew on their favourite teddy, or a massive hug from their human. If you’re forever struggling to keep your dog’s calories in check, try mixing up your rewards.
Handing out treats to our pups is second nature. We love to shower them with praise, affection, and rewards when they’re being the best boys and girls. But it’s important we’re aware of what we’re treating our dogs with, how often we’re treating them, and how we’re actually using treats in training. This way, we can make sure they’re as happy and healthy as possible!
If you’re looking for healthy, nutritious dog food that perfectly complements your pup’s treat collection, Swagwags kibble contains high-quality, responsibly sourced protein in every bag. With no nasties, you can rest assured it will get the wag of approval and contribute to a balanced diet that keeps both pup and pawrent happy, healthy, and stress-free.
Alia Coster, founder of hypoallergenic dog food brand Swagwags, is passionate about all things doggo nutrition and health. Thanks to her Shapei-Rottweiller cross, George, being allergic to life, she understands the daily nuances of a pawrent of a dog with allergies. You'll find more of her articles on SWAGWAGS
Alia Coster, founder of hypoallergenic dog food brand Swagwags, is passionate about all things doggo nutrition and health. Thanks to her Shapei-Rottweiller cross, George, being allergic to life, she understands the daily nuances of a pawrent of a dog with allergies. You'll find more of her articles on her website www.swagwags.co.uk