Troubleshooting Treat Training

Troubleshooting Treat Training

By: Melissa Kolmar CPDT-KA

I was listening to the Canine Conversations podcast: Common Treat Training Problems and How to Fix Them. I wanted to share the eight problems they highlighted because I think all of us have run into one or more of these in our training sessions.

1. The treats are too low or too high value.

  • Your dog determines the value of the treat…not you! Even though the salesperson at the pet store said “these are the BEST treats for training your dog!” doesn’t necessarily mean your dog will think so.
  • If you are working through distractions (having people over, working outside, etc.), you will need a higher value reinforcer.
  • Sometimes though, you can also have treats that are too high value. This can lead to a dog that’s TOO focused on the treats, to the point where it’s difficult for them to learn.

2. The rate of reinforcement is too low.

  • When your dog is learning a new task or dealing with distractions, you need to raise your rate of reinforcement (how fast you deliver the treats).
  • Use life rewards! This can be play, social interactions, going outside, toys, sniffing, etc.
  • SMARTX50

3. Criteria are too high.

  • Your dog may not yet be capable of doing what you’re asking for!
  • Behaviors need to be broken down into small components with each one trained to fluency before moving on to the next.

4. Timing is off.

  • This means that the food has to follow the behavior promptly. If the food appears before, or too long after, the dog performs the desired behavior, the connection won’t be made. Using a marker or clicker can help give you a bit of a buffer – the dog is taught that the marker or clicker means “Great job! Food is coming!” which gives you a few moments to get the food to your dog.

5. Your dog is too stressed.

  • If your dog is too stressed, they will not eat. That means you need to move away from the stressor.

6. Your dog is full.

  • Keep your training sessions short (5 minutes) and use small pieces of food (no larger than your pinky fingernail is sufficient for most dogs; even smaller pieces are effective for tiny dogs.)

7. Dog isn’t motivated by food IN THAT moment.

  • What does your dog want to do RIGHT NOW? Chase the squirrel, play with the ball, sniff that tree?

8. Dog only performs when the food is visible.

  • This is an error in technique. Make sure you fade the lure (treat in your hand) as soon as the behavior is solid. Mix up where the treats come from (pocket, pouch, table, chair, etc.)