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Daily Dog Training Conversations

by Michelle Martiya

“He knows you’re the treat person.”

Do you know the easiest and fastest way to get your dog to respond to you like they respond to me? BECOME THE TREAT PERSON, TOO! Do you know how I know if you’ve been stingy with the treats or tried bribing your dog instead of reinforcing your dog? Your dog ignores you when I’m there and only pays attention to me! I know when you’ve been doing your homework and generously offering your dog treats because your dog either pays attention to us equally or pays more attention to you because your relationship is stronger.

“He knows you have treats.”

I can walk into your house without any treats on me at all, and your dog will still do stuff for me. Need proof? Just let me know, and the next time I come over I’ll come in without any treats. Your dog will still do what I ask because the last time I was there, I gave him a treat every time he did something I liked. So now your dog knows me as someone GENEROUS, CONSISTENT, AND RELIABLE.

“He’s only doing it for the food.”

Aren’t we all? There’s literally nothing that we do that doesn’t involve food. No dates, no get-togethers with friends, no meetings, no family gatherings, etc. Sharing food is a social experience that we even pay extra for. We talk about food, we have commercials about food, we go out and pay to eat food someone else has made even though we have food in our houses. We even post on social media about food. The last thing you’ll stop buying when the money runs out will be food, and it’ll probably be the first thing you steal after your money is gone, too. I bet you can tell me the exact meals that you’re looking forward to eating every time you visit your grandma or your mom. I bet that food is part of the reason you visit, too. Why is it a crime for our dogs to be motivated by food as well?

“He won’t do it unless I have treats.”

If he won’t do it unless you have treats, then you’ve been using treats as a bribe and not as a reinforcer. The purpose of the treat is not to get your dog to do the behavior this time. The purpose of the treat is to MAKE THE BEHAVIOR STRONGER so that your dog will do it again next time.

“I don’t want to always have to carry treats.”

Why not? Is it really that much of a challenge to grab your treat pouch along with your leash and poop bags? Get a treat pouch with a belt, and you can just fasten it around your waist instead of having to carry it in your hands. When you get home from your walk, refill the pouch so that it’s ready to go for next time. You can even keep a container by the door to refill your pouch with, if you want. Inside the house, you don’t need to carry treats. Have a few treat stations set up around the house, and you can just reach for those whenever you want to reinforce something awesome that your dog did, like sitting or looking cute.

“He’s always going to expect treats.”

Some of my clients know me well enough to know that I love chocolate. So they keep a dish of chocolates out for me when I come over. Do I eagerly anticipate eating some chocolates when I arrive at their house? Of course! Do I trust that my clients are going to remember me and have some chocolates out? Of course! Do I expect them to provide those chocolates for me every time I come? Of course not! And even if I did, I would just be disappointed if there weren’t any chocolates. It’s not like I walk in demanding chocolates. Your dog is not going to expect a treat in the sense that they are going to demand it from you after they do something, and even if they did, it’s not like you have to give them one. When you give your dog a treat every time they sit, your dog learns to TRUST YOU. They learn that you are RELIABLE AND CONSISTENT. They learn to sit for you, because THEY ARE CONFIDENT THAT SOMETHING GOOD WILL HAPPEN for them if they do.

“I don’t want to bribe my dog.”

That’s great because I don’t want you trying to bribe your dog either! It doesn’t work. Dogs aren’t stupid enough to fall for that trickery, and they will very quickly stop doing anything at all for you if you’re trying to bribe them. The treat isn’t meant to get your dog to do the behavior now. The treat is meant to REINFORCE THE BEHAVIOR so that your dog does it again later.

“He’ll do it for me without the treat.”

Of course he will—that’s the point. Your dog will do things for you without the treat. Remember, we’re not bribing your dog! The treat is for AFTER your dog does the thing, to MAKE THAT BEHAVIOR STRONGER so that your dog will DO IT AGAIN THE NEXT TIME.

Michelle Martiya is an ABI certified exotic animal trainer who works with canines, equids, and exotic species. Michelle specializes in connecting and building relationships with fearful and feral equids, combining her natural ”way” with animals and her many years of experience, with a robust education in animal behavior and training. Michelle’s animal experience includes both domestic and exotic species, and she currently coaches people in training their animals through video conferencing and other virtual media through her company Essential Animal Training.

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