Using reward based training techniques can be very powerful
.  When used correctly, it
not only promotes desired behavior in your dog,  but also helps build a solid relationship,
and can be a lot of fun.  You just have to follow a few rules. First, there is a difference
between a bribe and a reward.  A bribe is dangled in front of the dog as you ask for a
behavior.  It is actually a hindrance to learning for the dog because all the dog can think
about is the bag of treats by his nose, and you may end up with a demanding, grabby dog!  A
reward,  on the other hand, is kept out of sight and appears as if by magic when the dog does
the right thing.  That is a powerful training tool,  hiding the treats will keep your dog’s
attention on you instead of on your hand.

So the first rule is don’t advertise your food rewards—make sure you hide your treats in a
bag, pocket, behind your back, or even up on a shelf, and deliver the treat quickly and
efficiently.  This brings me to my second point.

Trainers always tell you how important timing is to getting good results.  The reason is
that dogs don’t seem to have the same kind of memory we do, so if you want them to
associate the reward with the desired behavior, you have to deliver that reward within 2 or 3
seconds from the time the dog performed the behavior.   You are always rewarding what
happened in the last 2 seconds.  

Third,  not all treats are created equal.  Kibble will work in your kitchen, but not in the
middle of town.  Big distractions call for higher quality treats, so if you’re asking for a sit-stay
around the barking dogs down the street, you might want to go with bits of chicken.  For
regular training,  when you start teaching a new behavior or work with a puppy,  taking the
breakfast kibble and sprinkling a bit of liver powder on it can be a perfect training treat ( and
it won’t make your puppy overweight).  When you start teaching a dog to heel out in the
neighborhood,  you are better off with tiny bits of chicken.

Don’t give up because a previously successful treat stops working.  Think about the kind
of treat you have and see if you can “upgrade,” or change it up.   Finally, treat size is actually
a factor, but it is not what you may think..  When you give your dog the “yes” that tells him
he did the right thing, it is better to give a series of tiny treats in rapid succession as opposed
to a huge chunk of food.  It is amazing how much more effective that is in getting the
behavior you want.

Finally, and perhaps most important, once it is clear the dog understands the
command,  it is time to phase out the treats
.  Use your hand to signals the behavior as
you did before,  but deliver the treat more randomly.  For example,  if you are working on
"down",  skip the treat every third try and replace it with lots of warm praise.  So, once a dog
learns what I expect, I start weaning the food rewards to other things.   I am a huge fan of
real-life rewards.  In fact, I use those throughout the day with my own dogs.  You might say
my dogs earn their keep.  I ask for a sit or down for dinner, a sit at the door to go outside or
get a favorite toy.  I even throw sits in inbetween Frisbee throws.  The real trick here is to
know your dog, find out what he really loves, whether it is a toy or sniffing a certain tree, use
that to teach and maintain good behavior from your dog.   Keep it fun and make a game of
everyday activities.