I meet a lot of people that say “my dog will only come or stay if I have a treat”. My answer to that is: “You may be using the treats incorrectly!”. For the most part, when you’re training come and stay, the treat should not be present. Treats should be in a pouch, in a closed fist and/or behind your back. It should be about the BEHAVIOR of the dog, not the reward. The reward comes later, as a reinforcer. The only time a treat should be visually present is when you are luring (see notes below for definition of lure) a dog into their first sits, downs and during leash training for heel work. For the sit and down, the treat should be replaced by a hand signal ASAP. Other than that, the dog shouldn’t see your treats on a regular basis. Obviously they know you have them but, if you’re using the treat to get your dog to come or stay, I urge you to change that by surprising them instead. For come you have to ask yourself “What can I do to get my dog to come to me?” This means: Am I EXCITING enough, positive and fun? Or am I simply standing still and saying their name? That’s not very enticing. Move your body, say their name in a happy voice and make coming to you FUN. Mix up your rewards between food, toys, praise and petting (surprise your dog with ALL once in a while).
Because food is a Primary Reinforcer for dogs training your dog using treats is a very effective way to change behaviors. Some dogs will even train with their dry food (kibble) which can be a great way to utilize their mealtimes for training. You can also try mixing their kibble half-and-half with treats. If you aren't using your dog's meal for training, be sure you deduct the same amount from their next meal so they don't become overweight.
Here are some ways treats are used in training:
With all of this being said, it’s important to be aware of WHERE the treat is during the training. If you aren’t using it as a lure (see #1 above), it shouldn’t be in plain sight.
If you'd like to see the video that goes with this post, you can do so here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ti6ASuZvjTA
Christine Durrant, Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Care Consultant