Treats if you please: Knowing the Role of the Treat in Pet Parenting

Why Give Treats?
For dogs and cats, there are many good reasons to give them treats. Maybe it’s a reward, something to eat in between meals, or something to keep them busy (so they’re not doing something bad!). It’s important to know a thing or two about how treats can be used positively so that both you and your pet can enjoy treat time and benefit from good pet behavior. That being said, don’t just buy any old treat for your furry buddy. You should always read the label and make sure you are getting high-quality and healthy products.

The K9 Approach – Excitement is a no-no
Treats can be a powerful tool for training and a way to reinforce good behavior in our dogs. Conversely, treats can also be a way of reinforcing bad behavior, even if we don’t realize it. Dogs see treats as a form of affection, much like hugs and bellyrubs. When we give our dog a treat, we are sending a message to their brain that we like what they are doing at that moment, whether it’s sitting quietly and attentively or jumping all over us trying to grab the treat from our hand (bad dog!). This is why treats are such a powerful training tool. If we are repeatedly doing a simple exercise, like teaching our dog to sit, a treat is a way to reinforce that behavior. For this reason, it’s very important that our dog associates treat time with a calm and obedient state of mind.

Attention Please!
Here’s something that may surprise you: when you open a treat bag, your dog can already smell it. Not only that, she can smell what some of its ingredients are. Try this: ask your dog to sit or lie down quietly once you have the treat in hand. If you stay calm, they will become calm. The key is to be patient! Wait until you have her full attention, and then slowly place the treat in front of her snout so she can take it from you. Getting used to this kind of ritual is important to condition our dogs to remember what kind of behavior is expected of them. Giving our dogs treats at various stages of excitement can actually confuse them to the point where they will not know what we as pet parents want from them.

Medicine, What Medicine?
Dangling a treat in front of your pet can also be an effective way of keeping her attention on you, and away from something else. For example, if you find you are having a hard time putting topical medication on your dog, a treat can be a great way to motivate her to sit still while you have a friend or family member work their meds magic.

Walking Like a Good Dog
If you are teaching your dog how to walk properly on leash, giving treats is also acceptable, though the timing is a little bit different. The behavior you should be looking for is that she is walking beside or behind you, not leading and not trying to pull you in different directions. The number one distraction by which your dog will be lured on walks is strange smells. Having some treats in your pocket and keeping one in your hand to draw your dog’s attention can help to set the pace you desire for the walk and help keep her nose from getting distracted by other smells.

Keeping Them Busy
Treats used in a toy like a Kong can be a fun activity for your pooch as well. Clean the toy, then fill it with a few of their favourite treats and let them have at it. This can be a good break from keeping a close eye on a puppy that’s teething as well. It’s easy to almost feel bad watching your dog go insane over trying to get the last treat out – you may even find yourself caving and fishing it out for them. But remember, this activity should always be supervised!

They’re Different, Alright
Anyone who’s been a long-time cat or dog owner knows that they are wired quite differently. Domesticated cats were  originally bred to hunt vermin, so most of them are fairly independent and aren’t as obsessed with getting our attention and praise as dogs. Cats love treats because they taste great. Treats can be a great way to reinforce positive behavior with your cat, whether it is a fun break between meals, a reward for behaving well, or even training. Yes, cats can be trained too, believe it or not!

Good Kitty
Sometimes as part of our duties of good pet-parenting we need to engage in activities with our kitty that he may not like. This can include: nail trimming, brushing, ear cleaning, medicating, or teeth brushing. Treats can be a great way of reinforcing good behavior after we have finished one of these activities. Don’t forget to do the required activity calmly and over time he will begin to associate these activities with the positive reinforcement of a treat. Even when you catch your cat doing something right, like using that scratching post instead of the carpet or your new sweater you forgot to hang up  (whoops), a treat can be a great way of rewarding this good behavior.

Yes, You CAN Train a Cat
No kidding! But this requires a modified approach compared to dogs, and treats are a great tool when training your cat. Let’s use the example of getting your cat to sit on a chair. Cats get bored easily, so keep your training sessions relatively short. It’s also helpful to use a clicker or something that makes a clicking noise such as a pen, immediately when he has demonstrated the behavior you’re looking for, followed by a treat. For training him to sit on a chair, train him in stages. Firstly, reward him just for jumping on the chair and giving you his attention when you’ve asked. Whatever command or  action you use, just keep it simple and consistent for the action you are looking for him to demonstrate. For the second or third training session, challenge him to sit by holding the treat in front of him and slowly arc upwards so his nose follows you up and his rear starts to go down. Even if he doesn’t sit all the way down on the first or second try, still give him the treat. Get him to work towards sitting all the way down eventually. When treats are used for the right reasons and under the right circumstances, they can be a great way to positively reinforce good pet behavior, to reward them, or just to have some  good fun. Choose the type and frequency of your treats with some care and you will find that this is one of many ways to get the most out of being a pet parent!

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