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First off, this will be a long post! Apologies - I want to be as clear as possible, and sometimes that takes a little longer!

If you have read many of my other posts, you will know that I have a bit of an...aversion (for lack of a better word) to "treat training". However, it seems that this forum is incredibly pro-treat. Although I have lots of experience with dogs, and feel pretty darned confident in how I work with dogs, I know that no-one knows everything, and I am always hoping to understand different perspectives. So I am not necessarily looking for advice here, I am trying to gain a better understanding of something, and possibly have an interesting discussion. I am NOT a first timer, nor am I attempting to start any kind of drama, so please lets keep it polite? Thank you!

On the recommendation of a couple forum members, I had a look at kikopup on youtube. While I agree with most of her principles (not every single one, but I don't want this to turn into a kikopup discussion!), what I saw brought to mind the same issues that I see with pretty much all treat training. I'm going to outline them, and I would like to hear your thoughts - is there something that I am missing, or misunderstanding?

1. The sheer volume of treats given is staggering!! In a 30 sec clip from a video, I watch as 10+ treats are given.....this just can't be healthy! This is my primary issue with treat training - the treats are free-flowing at all times....even if you just gave treats during a 15 min training session once a day, if you followed these videos exactly, you would be giving the dog a whole bag! Some people may say "break the treat into pieces" but giving 100 quarter biscuits is still 25 biscuits! The treat-giving was just...constant. And if you train constantly throughout the day (sitting at street corners on walks, teaching leave it around the house, etc etc)....

2. Related to that is the next issue. As I see it, either you are just giving treats during "training sessions", which I have seen usually result in a dog that performs excellently during these sessions, but completely randomly outside of them. Most people get into a bit of a training session "routine", and the dog picks up on changes in body language, picking up the treat bag, collecting toys, etc etc, and starts to associate the commands ONLY with these sessions. This isn't just a theory, I have seen it more times than I can count! Or, you are giving treats as you train throughout the day, at which point the treat-toll rises to a ridiculous level.

3. Treat training works largely on creating something that is often referred to in human psychology as the "gambler mentality". Studies throughout behaviorism and cognitive psychology have been very consistent - when animals are presented with a lever/button that dispenses treats, two things will happen. If the treat is consistently given when the lever is pressed, the animal will learn the behavior, and carry on with their life. This continues if the treat is dispensed every 5, 10, 20 presses - the animal learns. But if the treat is dispensed randomly, the animals become almost deranged, continuing to push the lever to the exclusion of food or rest - studies have shown rats pressing a lever obsessively until passing out with exhaustion or birds pecking a button until they actual damage their beaks, some rats even starved to death attempting to get a treat! This behavior is often used to explain gambling in humans, and usually is referred to as a serious mental issue. SO - if you start off giving the dog a treat "sometimes", or start using treats and then stop, you are creating this mentality, that many psychologists would consider a mental instability. I just can't get past the picture of animals literally damaging and killing themselves to get the treat - I can't think that that is a happy animal!! Only if you train absolutely consistently with treats, giving them every single time, can you be certain of avoiding this...which circles us back around to health issues. Some animals are more prone to this behavior than others, which goes a long way to explain why some dogs take to treat training very well, and others really don't - it is always possible that this mentality will not develop. And theoretically, if you were able to treat every 20th behavior EXACTLY, you wouldn't have an issue, or every behavior without over-feeding. But I would rather not take the chance!

4. Here is the real crux - why is a FOOD treat so important? I basically use the principles of "treat training" - the same exercises, games, commands, etc, the same build up in difficulty - but using praise and affection rather than food. If you have a strong bond with your dog, pleasing you should be a huge reward on it's own - dogs LOVE to make their people happy! And this is something that can be given in unlimited amounts, anywhere, anytime, with zero impact on health, and that never has to be weaned away as the animal learns. It's also FREE, and I have yet to meet a dog with an intolerance to praise, although I have seen more than one dog brought to the vet after a training day with a new brand led to explosive diarrhea! I may reinforce the commands learned using praise AND a toy (continuing to train during playtime) or praise AND something else the dog loves (being let away to play with another dog after sitting quietly first), but praise is the number one motivator at all times.

Finally (I warned you it would be a long one!) I just wanted to give a little info on how I train at the moment, and how I do use treats (yup, I do use them occasionally). I use treats to create a positive association with new or potentially scary situations - the first bath, the first time in the vet, etc, or when the pup is unaware that they are capable of doing something - like going down stairs - they often just don't realise that they CAN, and putting a treat a few stairs down gives them incentive, and then confidence in their ability. We also occasionally use them in hide-and-seek games, to develop her natural tracking tendencies. So I am not opposed to all treats, ever - as long as they are given sparingly, and are healthy and included in calorie requirements, they are a useful tool.
I DO NOT train using physical intimidation or punishment, although I do correct, depending on the situation. "Correction" here is usually a re-direct, distraction, short verbal command (not a shout or yell) or occasionally a "time out".
I DO train throughout the day, as well as having little "re-cap" sessions every few days. Throughout the day, commands are used when they will be used in later life - sitting at street corners, sitting when we put the leash on for walks, leave-it for chewing in the house, recall around the house, drop-it during play, etc. Then re-cap sessions are like traditional "training sessions", where we practice commands for a praise reward.

I have never had an issue, and our new pup is coming along wonderfully - she is already better trained and behaved than most of the neighborhood dogs, and we are constantly complimented on her calm temperament and attention to us. (In fact, as a little example, on our walk this morning, we watched a guy who had the worst recall I had ever seen - running all over the park as his dog scampered around greeting everyone and he called his name. This was a full-grown dog, and he only eventually got him when I took pity on him, and enticed the dog to run over to Dita to chase, and then put Dita (the 3month old puppy!) into a down/stay, so that the other dog waited by her until the owner caught up!). I have never had a problem training with praise, but everyone here seems so into the treat training that I really want to understand it!!

Please help me out - am I missing something? Why is it about the food, or the clicker - why is praise not enough? Is it just that it is faster and easier to start with? Is it more convenient - dogs already love food, so you don't have work so much on bonding (why would you want a dog that you are not strongly bonded with)? Or is it just because many people seem to think that the only options are clicker, treat, or intimidation/punishment, and being a forum, you would rather steer people toward the method that doesn't involve a lot of damaging behavior?
 

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Here's my take. Food is easy to begin with. Not all dogs like praise. I have had several that don't even like to be touched. Puppies are easily captivated by food, setting the stage for great attention spans.

I literally use tiny pieces, almost crumbs. I don't treat at every command, training is done randomly, it isn't set into sessions. Dogs learn they get random rewards and try even harder tor earn them. Almost all dogs I work with are switched over to tug rewards, sometimes balls. Whatever is highest value.

With the young pups, virtually nothing beats good stinky treats. I don't keep many of the dogs I work with, and sometimes they change handlers later in life. So creating an ultimate reward, that the dog will work for, with even a green I.experienced handler is vital.
 

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Very short and simple answer? Because I like my dogs to be rewarded for good behavior and want to offer good behavior because only good things happen to them when they do. I want my dogs to know that nothing but good things come from me. I also have dogs that already had all the positiveness sucked out of the world for them in general and I want to bring them back.

Rewards vary as well. It doesn't ALWAYS have to be food and you can treat train and be responsible for health. There are healthy treats and you feed your dog appropriately, factoring in the treats so you're not OVER feeding. Not a hard concept. There is also phasing out, so dogs are not stuffed with treats every time they sit.
 

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"Help me understand why everyone is so pro-treat training"

Because it works and I don't have to hurt my dog to make it work.
 

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When I'm phasing treats out I will randomly give praise or give a treat. My dog likes treats better but she likes being told she's a good dog too. She isn't killing herself to get a treat. Jumping? Yes. Sitting when I tell her to stop that and sit? Sure. But killing herself over it? No way! Also, the treats I use are dry treats and super tiny--Wet Noses Training Stars (I believe they are called) and Sojos Good Dog training treats which I break in half. I quit using soft treats because they just weren't working for my dog/my training style and I didn't want her to get fat. I also highly doubt she gets over 100 treats in a training session--our sessions are longer than "recommended" and I can often start phasing out treats in one session for a simple command.
 

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I could choke, smack, and kick my dog and she will behave out of fear.
OR
I could use treats (which get phased out), praise, or toys and my dog will behave because she wants to.​



The question is, do I want my dog to fear me or to want to please me?
I prefer the second and it's been working quite well for me.
 

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Discussion Starter #8 (Edited)
"Help me understand why everyone is so pro-treat training"

Because it works and I don't have to hurt my dog to make it work.
You don't have to hurt a dog to train it with praise! In fact, I specifically said that I don't agree with physical intimidation to train, AT ALL!

I could use treats (which get phased out) and my dog will behave because she wants to.
OR
I could choke, smack, and kick my dog and she will behave out of fear.​



The question is, do I want my dog to fear me or to want to please me?
I prefer the first and it's been working quite well for me.
OR - you could use praise, a non-food reward! There is a THIRD OPTION here - that is what I am having the biggest issue understanding - it's not a case of beat-or-treat....
 

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It's a case of praise AND treat randomly in my instance, as I explained earlier.
 

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OR - you could use praise, a non-food reward! There is a THIRD OPTION here - that is what I am having the biggest issue understanding - it's not a case of beat-or-treat....
Please requote me as there were a few things I had to fix (including the first option that I said I preferred being hitting my dog).

I know many "pro-treat" trainers who also use praise and toys. Treats are not the end-all-be-all but if my dog is SUPER food motivated than why not use that?
My doberman could care less about toys but he will do just about anything for a marshmallow. So, if I want to train a new behavior should I really try toys or praise or should I start with the marshmallow/other treat and phase that out for something else once it clicks for him?
 

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1. The sheer volume of treats given is staggering!! In a 30 sec clip from a video, I watch as 10+ treats are given.....this just can't be healthy! This is my primary issue with treat training - the treats are free-flowing at all times....even if you just gave treats during a 15 min training session once a day, if you followed these videos exactly, you would be giving the dog a whole bag! Some people may say "break the treat into pieces" but giving 100 quarter biscuits is still 25 biscuits! The treat-giving was just...constant. And if you train constantly throughout the day (sitting at street corners on walks, teaching leave it around the house, etc etc)....


First off, the number of treats seems like a lot, but in reality the treats are usually TINY. I get 100 treats from one hot dog for example - there's not much left to them. Usually I use healthier stuff and I don't use treats all the time, mainly for targeting the things I'm working on with a dog. I don't use them for walks or potty training myself.


2. Related to that is the next issue. As I see it, either you are just giving treats during "training sessions", which I have seen usually result in a dog that performs excellently during these sessions, but completely randomly outside of them. Most people get into a bit of a training session "routine", and the dog picks up on changes in body language, picking up the treat bag, collecting toys, etc etc, and starts to associate the commands ONLY with these sessions. This isn't just a theory, I have seen it more times than I can count! Or, you are giving treats as you train throughout the day, at which point the treat-toll rises to a ridiculous level.

As I said I give for a set few things I'm working on, and then throughout the day. I'm not training finishes all day, so I don't use food for that. Household manners are only the first month or so then it's more formal stuff we're focused on. I usually end up with treats in a pocket most days, so it's not hard to pop one out for random treating.

3. Treat training works largely on creating something that is often referred to in human psychology as the "gambler mentality". Studies throughout behaviorism and cognitive psychology have been very consistent - when animals are presented with a lever/button that dispenses treats, two things will happen. If the treat is consistently given when the lever is pressed, the animal will learn the behavior, and carry on with their life. This continues if the treat is dispensed every 5, 10, 20 presses - the animal learns. But if the treat is dispensed randomly, the animals become almost deranged, continuing to push the lever to the exclusion of food or rest - studies have shown rats pressing a lever obsessively until passing out with exhaustion or birds pecking a button until they actual damage their beaks, some rats even starved to death attempting to get a treat! This behavior is often used to explain gambling in humans, and usually is referred to as a serious mental issue. SO - if you start off giving the dog a treat "sometimes", or start using treats and then stop, you are creating this mentality, that many psychologists would consider a mental instability. I just can't get past the picture of animals literally damaging and killing themselves to get the treat - I can't think that that is a happy animal!! Only if you train absolutely consistently with treats, giving them every single time, can you be certain of avoiding this...which circles us back around to health issues. Some animals are more prone to this behavior than others, which goes a long way to explain why some dogs take to treat training very well, and others really don't - it is always possible that this mentality will not develop. And theoretically, if you were able to treat every 20th behavior EXACTLY, you wouldn't have an issue, or every behavior without over-feeding. But I would rather not take the chance!

I have yet to see a dog get to that extreme when weaned off treats though. And usually what happens when most people train is they go from giving a treat every time the dog sits, and every step the dog takes, to giving a treat after the dog's worked 60 seconds or so of nice heelwork, or run a nice agility course. They're not lab rats so they do have other things to do with their time too, so I'd take the studies with a grain of salt.

4. Here is the real crux - why is a FOOD treat so important? I basically use the principles of "treat training" - the same exercises, games, commands, etc, the same build up in difficulty - but using praise and affection rather than food. If you have a strong bond with your dog, pleasing you should be a huge reward on it's own - dogs LOVE to make their people happy! And this is something that can be given in unlimited amounts, anywhere, anytime, with zero impact on health, and that never has to be weaned away as the animal learns. It's also FREE, and I have yet to meet a dog with an intolerance to praise, although I have seen more than one dog brought to the vet after a training day with a new brand led to explosive diarrhea! I may reinforce the commands learned using praise AND a toy (continuing to train during playtime) or praise AND something else the dog loves (being let away to play with another dog after sitting quietly first), but praise is the number one motivator at all times.

Food works. You can train any dog without it, but the results with food are generally much better, the dog works to a higher level than just praise. For some dogs yes, praise is their thing, but that's about 5% or so of dogs. Dogs aren't going to work for five bucks, but they'll take a bit of liver for their troubles. If it's misused by the owner, because they give it too often and make a point of luring the dog with the food, then it's not the liver's fault. The liver's just there smelling good, not telling the dog to do something or not do something.
 

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You don't have to hurt a dog to train it with praise! In fact, I specifically said that I don't agree with physical intimidation to train, AT ALL!



OR - you could use praise, a non-food reward! There is a THIRD OPTION here - that is what I am having the biggest issue understanding - it's not a case of beat-or-treat....
Then what's the point of questioning treats vs. just praise? It's all reward base training. Pick your reward.
 

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Exactly! Every dog is an individual, and why on Earth would I use exclusively praise for a dog that sometimes shies away when I go to pet her? It doesn't even make sense to me to use one thing all the time honestly, whether it's treats or anything else.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
When I'm phasing treats out I will randomly give praise or give a treat. My dog likes treats better but she likes being told she's a good dog too. She isn't killing herself to get a treat. Jumping? Yes. Sitting when I tell her to stop that and sit? Sure. But killing herself over it? No way! Also, the treats I use are dry treats and super tiny--Wet Noses Training Stars (I believe they are called) and Sojos Good Dog training treats which I break in half. I quit using soft treats because they just weren't working for my dog/my training style and I didn't want her to get fat. I also highly doubt she gets over 100 treats in a training session--our sessions are longer than "recommended" and I can often start phasing out treats in one session for a simple command.
To clarify, I wasn't suggesting that a dog would start actually starving herself over trying to get a treat! My point was more about the mentality, and the issue that I have with risking creating a "gambling mentality" in my dog. The studies I mentioned took this to the absolute extreme (studies usually do), but the underlying implication is still a little disturbing to me. Treat-training and seeing a dog with that pleading "do I get a treat now?" look always makes me think of animals hurting themselves, or of compulsive gamblers with that disturbing, desperate look in their eye as they think "just one more roll and I'll get it!". It is definitely something that has become an association for me....gee, thanks psychology diploma!

I think it was wonderfully summed up by an uncle of mine who is a farmer, and has working herding dogs who were trained this way (with praise, not treats) - he told me "you want the dog to learn that it WANTS to do the behavior for the sake of the behavior, not because there is a slim chance that it might get a piece of food at the end of it".
 

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Then what's the point of questioning treats vs. just praise? It's all reward base training. Pick your reward.
Did you read my opening post at all? I gave the reasons that I think that praise is a better "reward" than treats - in great detail! Most importantly, health, consistency, and removing the risk of a disturbing mentality.
 

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Exactly! Every dog is an individual, and why on Earth would I use exclusively praise for a dog that sometimes shies away when I go to pet her? It doesn't even make sense to me to use one thing all the time honestly, whether it's treats or anything else.
I absolutely agree on mixing up different techniques to suit individual situations - there is never one cure-all.

However, I think that situations involving a dog that is being rehabilitated - maybe after abuse - and so is very touch-shy is a specific and different situation. I am talking about your average dog - I would actually be a little concerned at a dog that was very touch-shy of their owner (rather than strangers), and working on that would be my first priority.
 

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To clarify, I wasn't suggesting that a dog would start actually starving herself over trying to get a treat! My point was more about the mentality, and the issue that I have with risking creating a "gambling mentality" in my dog. The studies I mentioned took this to the absolute extreme (studies usually do), but the underlying implication is still a little disturbing to me. Treat-training and seeing a dog with that pleading "do I get a treat now?" look always makes me think of animals hurting themselves, or of compulsive gamblers with that disturbing, desperate look in their eye as they think "just one more roll and I'll get it!". It is definitely something that has become an association for me....gee, thanks psychology diploma!

I think it was wonderfully summed up by an uncle of mine who is a farmer, and has working herding dogs who were trained this way (with praise, not treats) - he told me "you want the dog to learn that it WANTS to do the behavior for the sake of the behavior, not because there is a slim chance that it might get a piece of food at the end of it".
One of my cadaver dogs will not take a reward unless she is right on top of a find. She will obsess with being inches from the source, and if its in a place she can't get right beside (underwater, buried, or up in a tree or ceiling) she will alert, I throw her tug and she dodges it. Won't touch food. Not sure why. Malinois tend to be OCD anyway, but usually for.the reward. Dogs, lol
 
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