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How to use treats: Bribing vs rewarding

People often say their dog only does as they ask when they first show them the reward. This essentially means they need to bribe the dog before they will do anything for them. The difference with rewarding is that a reward comes after the behaviour, even when not shown beforehand.

With puppy training or learning a new behaviour, you always start with luring. However, when not phased out properly, your dog might become dependent on the treat before willing to show any behaviour. Let’s take an example:

You want to teach your dog how to sit.

  • You show your puppy the treat and then lure them into the position you want them to be in (in this case, the sit position). Afterwards, they get the reward.

  • When the dog’s behaviour becomes predictable (you know when he will sit down), you add the cue. Lure him into the sitting position and say the word sit just before he will sit down. Again, reward when your dog sits down.

  • When your dog gets the hang of it, then comes the phasing out part. You say the command, lure your dog in the sitting behaviour after giving the command. But instead of luring with a treat in your hand, your hand is now empty. Be sure to make the same movement as before, just without a treat in your hand. When your dog sits down, reward with your voice (YES or GOOD BOY/GIRL) and give a treat immediately after.

  • Once your dog is consistent in showing the wanted behaviour, randomize the treats. Don’t give a treat after every good sit, but make sure to still reward your dog. This can be done with your voice or some play.

Even at the age of 4 and 6, I still often reward my dogs when they act as I ask. Sometimes I’ll use a food reward, sometimes some play time, sometimes just my voice, but I make sure to always let them know when they act as I want them to.

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