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How to Use Dog Treats when Training Your Puppy

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There’s nothing more thrilling than welcoming a new dog into the family. The joy and energy a puppy adds are exciting, yet there is much to consider before bringing home your new canine friend. Not only is it critical that you prepare your home, but it is also equally important that you are ready to train your dog with appropriate new behavior expected to function well in your family.

While it may feel overwhelming at first, training your new puppy at an early age while their behaviors are most malleable will simplify this process and allow for the most success.

Dog waiting to get delicious treat outdoors.

Why use treats

As much as we wish animals could understand us, unfortunately, our words mean absolutely nothing to our dogs. We must get their attention in another way. Dogs naturally crave the dominance of a pack leader and are eager to please. Using treats to reward wanted behavior communicates to your puppy what is expected and gives them the motivation to obey.

Positive reinforcement begets positive results. Dog training is most successful when your dog recognizes that there is a desirable outcome when they decipher what their human is seeking from them.

What kind of treat?

For the most successful training session, it is important to find a treat that your puppy is willing to work for. Some dogs respond best to a “high value” food such as a liver-based dog treat, while some will even work for their own kibble. The texture of the treat can also be a preferential trait. You don’t have to give your dog a large piece or a handful of goodies. Begin by offering one small piece at a time, as long as your puppy is motivated.

If your dog is losing interest in the treat you are offering, you may have to adjust the value of the treat. Small pieces of chicken, hot dog, cheese, or even vegetables often produce better responses.

Sit

The very first basic command most dog parents tackle is the instruction to sit. Training your puppy to sit is a crucial tool for calming your dog and helping them to focus on you.

Begin by showing a treat to your dog to gain their attention. Hold the treat above their nose, but not too high to cause them to jump, and command your dog to “sit”. Slowly move the treat back behind your dog’s head. Most dogs will naturally sit as their nose attempts to follow the treat. The moment their rear touches the ground, reward them and praise them enthusiastically.

Stay

Another necessary directive to teach your puppy is to stay. This is an important skill for your dog to remain in one spot despite the distractions around them. Training your dog to stay will not only keep them safe but also protect others who may not be comfortable with a canine invading their space.

Building off of the previously taught skill, instruct your puppy to sit and reward them with a treat. With their attention focused on you, place your hand in front of your dog while saying “stay”. Reward your dog once again.

Now slightly rock away from your pup as you continue to hold your hand up and command “stay”. Give another treat. Gradually increase your distance as you repeat this process, continuing to reward your pup as long as they remain in the sitting position. If at any point your dog losing focus and stands up to approach you, start over by returning them to the sitting position.

Come

The third skill for your dog to learn is the ability to come when called. This is not only useful when your puppy has gotten loose or is approaching an unsafe situation, but it is also handy in getting your dog to follow you to the desired location. You may be calling for mealtime, commanding that they follow you into the house or car, or even inviting them to hop onto your bed or sofa for a cuddle (for small dogs or those with limited mobility, use a dog ramp like this).

When teaching your dog to come, it is not necessary to start in the sitting position, although this can help gain their attention. Move away from your pup as you excitedly call their name followed by “come”. As soon as they obey, give them a treat.

Continue to practice

Remember, as with any new skill, repetition and positive reinforcement are key to strengthening the wanted behavior. Dog training must be done daily and in an environment with the least amount of interruption. As your pup masters each new command, increase the number of distractions or change the location to the outdoors to further test their focus. Investing your time early on in training your puppy will result in a wonderful, well-behaved dog and will set a strong foundation for learning even more skills in the future.

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