When it comes to positive reinforcement and rewarding your dog for good behavior or learning a new command, treats are obviously the first thing that pet owners tend to rely on. They are convenient and effective, especially when it comes to training your pet. However, it’s easy to lose track of just how much food you’re giving your dog with these treats in combination with their regular feedings. Too much of a good thing can result in your pet becoming overweight or obese, and that brings the risk of health issues that come with having a weight problem.
In addition to weight issues, your pet may also have food allergies that may be hard to keep track of. You may not be able to easily find a treat that contains the proper ingredients.
The use of treats may also cause your dog to become fixated on the treat, rather than performing the desired behavior. This can also lead to begging behavior.
Fortunately, there are other methods of providing your dog rewards that do not involve treats. Here are some alternative ways you can try rewarding your dog while holding off on the treats.
One way of still providing a food-based reward without increasing their overall food consumption is to measure their food and reserve a portion of it for training. This method is best applicable if you feed your dog dry kibble and is especially beneficial if you have a dog that is very food driven and may not respond as well to other methods (at least not yet!). Just measure out all of the kibble that they will be fed for a day and set aside some kibble to be used for training. This way you are still rewarding them with a “treat” but are not increasing their food intake.
Providing some good old snuggle time rewards your dog with warmth and love. Curl up on the couch with a blanket to watch a movie or read a book. Or just give some belly rubs and ear scratches, or wherever their favorite spot is. A good snuggle session enhances the bond between you and your dog and makes them happy.
A Favorite Toy or a New Toy
Using toys instead of treats adds the element of play and games to your dog’s “work.” When dogs relate their obedience training to play, they can be more driven, more confident, and less stressed, which in turn means a happier dog. Toys can be used as a target for working dogs to get them to go to their mark. Toys also offer the advantage of being able to reward your dog from a distance. You can throw them a ball, but they would need to come back to you to get their treat. New toys provide stimulation and excitement.
What dog doesn’t love hearing an enthusiastic “good boy!” or “good girl!” from their master? Hearing this praise makes them happy and motivated to continue pleasing their owner with desired behavior. Even if your dog is not as responsive to praise at first, if combined with a treat or toy they will soon become praise seekers.
Similar to petting, brushing feels really good on your dog’s skin and coat. This is another good way to provide reinforcement and motivation by making them feel good and keeping them happy.
The clicker is a small handheld device that makes a “click” noise when pressed. This is used specifically for obedience training in combination with treats at first. Whenever your dog obeys a command, they receive a treat reward while simultaneously hearing the click sound. They soon associate the sound with positive reinforcement and you gradually taper off the treats.
General Play or Walk Time
Rewarding your dog with some good playtime is yet another way to enhance your bond with them and keep them stimulated and happy. Whether it’s tossing a ball, catching a Frisbee, or playing some other game, dogs love to play.
Going for a nice walk is another activity you can provide them. A walk gives them exercise, stimulates their mind, and again, is great for bonding.
A Trip to the Dog Park or a New Walking Trail
This is another great way to provide exercise and mental stimulation for your dog. Dog parks give your dog a chance to see and smell other dogs, as well as birds, squirrels, and other animals. New walking or hiking trails do the same thing, along with giving them different territory to experience.
Go for a Car Ride
This one only applies if your dog loves car rides of course! Most dogs do, but there are definitely exceptions to that rule. This is similar to going for a walk on a new trail. They get the excitement of seeing new things and going to a new place, all with their favorite person!
As you can see, there are many alternatives to food treats that you can use to reward your dog. You may discover other methods with your dog. Anything that your dog finds value in can be used as a reward.
If your dog already struggles with a weight problem, it would be a good idea to start implementing some of these tactics instead of using treats. Please contact us to set up an appointment for an exam or nutrition consultation. We can make recommendations to help get your dog to a healthy weight.