This question comes with many answers, both positive and negative, and it may depend on who you ask. For example, experts agree that the best training method is through positive reinforcement. But what does that mean exactly? Should you use food and treats to train your dog? Or not?

If you were to inquire to The Humane Society of the United States, they would definitively describe this practice as:

Positive reinforcement training uses praise and/or treats to reward your dog for doing something you want him to do. Because the reward makes him more likely to repeat the behavior, positive reinforcement is one of your most powerful tools for shaping or changing your dog’s behavior.”

The use of “and/or” in the definition leaves their explanation open to some interpretation. If you should use food and treats to train your dog would, therefore, depend upon the circumstances. And, with a significant rise in today’s pet obesity population, it would also depend upon the animal.

train your dog

Food & Treats To Train Your Dog – The Pros & Cons

First, let’s look at some pros and cons of food and treats as training method:

  • RESPONSE: You’ll likely get a very positive response when using treats to reward your pet for their good behavior or as an enticement to follow commands during obedience training. Especially when used for puppies during these important formative years, this may be one of the few ways to get and keep their attention.
  • REPULSE: But don’t forget those recent headlines about pet poisoning, especially treats imported from overseas, which were said to have contributed to over a thousand canine deaths. Be sure to read the ingredients carefully and consider healthier alternatives such as homemade treats where you’re responsible for all the ingredients.
  • DEPENDENCE: If you use treats, and only treats as a reward, it may happen that your pup always wants a tasty reward for a job well done or an acceptable behavior.
  • ACCEPTANCE: If you will be using treats as a part of your training regime, be sure to also include positive reinforcement through affection and praise.
  • REWARD: Rewarding an animal with food creates a positive connection with them that can make obedience training much easier.
  • RESPECT: But, it doesn’t demand respect from them and can ultimately deter from the bonding and training process.

Consider homemade treats to train your dog

Differentiating Training Techniques

Here it’s important to understand the difference between using food as a bribe, a lure or a reward:

  • Bribe: If you dangle a treat in front of your trainee, then give your dog a command and the task is accomplished, you’re bribing them to deliver the desired behavior.
  • Lure: By presenting food first to entice your animal to do something, like come when they’re called, you’re luring them to you and not training them to perform that task.
  • Reward: Therefore, putting the food out first as a bribe or using it as a lure, you’re risking them performing only for the food and not responding to the command.

Let’s take some basic training as an example. When attempting to get them to sit down and you hold the treat in front of them while pushing on their backside, you’re in essence bribing them to perform.  If you command them to sit by presenting a treat above their nose and moving it backward, you’re luring them into performing this activity.

However, putting them on a leash, giving them the command while persuading them to sit down while pulling slightly upwards on their lead and gently pushing on their backside, you’re teaching them this behavior in association with the command. After several times, using your gentle persuasion, followed by praise, once they’ve completed the task, your give them a reward.

So perhaps the best answer to the initial question being posed is … yes and no. Don’t make treats or food as the sole solution when it comes to rewarding your pet. Use positive reinforcement techniques through both praise and affection, along with food-related incentives when training and rewarding your best friend.

Written by Amber Kingsley