Among the old adages of traditional education, one that always comes up is: “You don’t tie your dog with sausages”.
Meaning: you don’t buy your dog’s loyalty by bludgeoning him with treats.
Do you know my neighbor Mamie-Gâteau?
I mentioned it in one of my old letters.
Mamie-Gâteau (Myriam, her real first name) is a lady I often meet at the park. His pockets are full of treats. And each time, she gives it to my dogs. 2 candies each.
And believe me: my dogs adore him unconditionally. They can be at the other end of the park, busy sniffing, chasing after a cat or eating poop: it doesn’t matter. When they hear Grandma Gateau’s voice, they rush to greet her.
So if, no offense to some: my dogs, we tie them with sausages. And it is very pleasant for everyone.
Between us, I’d rather tie my dog up with treats than with a choke collar.
Not you ? 😉
Because let’s not forget: our dogs are hedonistic and opportunistic by nature.
Our dogs live to have fun. We cannot expect them to obey us “out of unconditional love”. “Love” is a very human concept.
Of course, our dogs “love” us. But in their own way.
If you want your dog to be loyal, you have to MOTIVATE him.
For some, it will be with games. For others (it’s rarer), with affection. And for the vast majority, it will be with… sausages, cheese, pâté, in short: sweets.
Are we doomed to depend on sweets?
The question is legitimate: if the cooperation of the dog is conditioned by the sausage… What to do on the day when the treat bag is empty?
I assure you: even if the reward is essential in benevolent education, the goal is not to condition the success of the dog on obtaining a treat.
Here are 3 tips for using treats wisely, without becoming addicted to them.
First tip: never show your dog the reward BEFORE he performs the exercise.
This is a fairly common mistake: you ask your dog to “sit”; he does not listen; so we take out the candy to get his attention, and there, Miracle! Here he is attentive and wise as an image.
At the moment, it is very convenient. But in the long run, you condition your dog to obey only when he is guaranteed a visible reward. And the day we don’t have one… good luck getting Fido’s attention.
What to do instead?
Keep, as often as possible, treats on you, not visible. In your pocket or treat pouch.
Above all, wait until your dog has succeeded in the exercise you are asking him to do before taking the treat. Your hand should not even approach your pocket until the exercise is 100% finished.
You can use a marker (like the Clicker for example), to have more precision, and that your dog understands more quickly what you expect from him.
Sara, our dog trainer, shows how to do it in a video demonstration, included in the training “The Toolkit of Positive Education”. You can find it on this link.
In this training, there is also a module with the steps, one by one, to gradually dispense with the treat when an exercise is acquired.
Second Tip: Stop the rewards gradually
You have (for example) succeeded in teaching your dog to recall: congratulations! The exercise is acquired, you can now walk it without your candy bag.
But Medor is not of this opinion. He does not understand why, overnight, he is no longer rewarded for his beautiful reminder. He wonders if he has understood or succeeded in the exercise. And, with a sudden cessation of rewards, he loses his motivation.
A demotivated dog is a dog that will have more difficulty being cooperative. So even when the exercise is acquired, continue to reward, but 2 times out of 3. Then once out of 2. Then a third of the time, etc.
Third tip: Keep rewarding randomly, for fun 😊
Merlin knows the recall exercise. It’s been happening for years. Nevertheless, once in a while, when he comes back to life, I still give him a treat.
After all: even if he knows the drill, it’s a big sacrifice for him to abandon his friends, the track he was following, or this very attractive trash can, just to please me.
If he isn’t fairly rewarded every once in a while, he’ll end up wondering if he shouldn’t just ignore me. After all, what does he gain by having an impeccable recall?
So to maintain his motivation, do not hesitate to reward Médor when you have a treat on you. Even if it is for an easy exercise, which he already masters.
A short parenthesis to conclude: which treats to choose?
First thing: avoid rewarding your dog with kibble. You can do this, for example, if you ask him for an easy exercise, like a “sitting” beast in the middle of the living room.
But the value of the reward must be commensurate with the difficulty of the exercise. And the croquette, it does not have a lot of value. Normal: it’s all dry, and most dogs eat plenty of it at every meal.
So when, for example, I work on the socialization of Maki: I know that I have a lot more chance of diverting him from a fellow creature when I work with sausages, than with stupid croquettes!
Cheese crusts, knackis, pâté, cooked chicken… Don’t be afraid to dirty your pockets.
You will see that the more palatable the treat, the more your dog’s motivation will be palpable.
Health issue: avoid industrial sweets, such as Biscrok. They are very caloric. As in positive education, we reward a lot, you risk ending up with an obese dog.
Choose 100% meat treats, and ideally, moist ones.
For my part, I don’t even buy dog treats, which are often very expensive. I buy knackis, which I cut into tiny pieces (a single sausage makes me about 40 goodies). It’s cheaper, low in calories, but very appetizing (and therefore motivating) for my dogs.
With that, I leave you with a dog who, I hope, will be very motivated during his next education session 😉
Claude Lefevre and my 3 dogs, Penelope, Maki and Merlin