You can teach an old dog new tricks: Dog behaviourist reveals treat training does work

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They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks – but a leading dog behaviourist is challenging this mantra head on.

With 3.2 million households welcoming a new furry friend in lockdown, pet parents across the nation have spent the past few months training their new pooch – often rewarded with tasty treats.

With the average canine consuming 27 treats a week according to research from Lily’s Kitchen, do treats really work when training your pup?

Dog behaviourist and trainer, Louise Glazebrook, from BBC2’s ’12 Puppies and Us’ series, believes the method DOES work – urging pet parents to introduce treat training regimes immediately.

“Treats are one of the most simple and accessible ways to reward your puppy or dog. I use treats to create games, reward behaviours, maintain mental stimulation and reinforce tasks for any age of dog.

“Contrary to belief – you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. All dogs from puppies through to senior dogs require daily play, games, interaction, walks and training. My rescue dog is approx. eight years old and I still use treats for sniffing games, hide and seek and find it tasks.

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“All dogs need daily motivation and treats are a great way of doing this. Whether you are using them to stuff a treat dispensing toy, play find it or reward recall cues, it is crucial to have a reward system in place. Just as humans are rewarded for going to work, we should be doing the same with our dogs.”

However, Glazebrook notes that dog owners are often found to commit a canine crime, rewarding hounds with treats that can be harmful to their health.

One in 10 pet parents admitted to serving up grapes and chocolate to their pampered pets – despite them being highly toxic to dogs.

Ice cream, grapes and bacon were also cited as ‘unhealthy’ human-foods used as dog treats by the 2,000 respondents.

Glazebrook said on the subject, “Feeding your dog or puppy the wrong the kind of treats, such as fatty and sugary items, can cause sickness and diarrhoea. It may also trigger inflammatory responses that may then require veterinary attention, such as Colitis. I always look out for an ingredients list that shows real meat content, such as the Lily’s Kitchen Puppy Salmon & Chicken treats. These have a high meat content, plus the salmon makes them smelly and enticing for puppies who need a lot of engagement in distracting environments like the park.

“There are also treats out there that boast benefits to keep hounds healthy – this is especially important for growing pups, but also senior dogs who have specific needs in later life. A great example of this is Lily’s Kitchen Senior Turkey and White Fish Bites that support joint health.”

According to the poll, six in 10 admitted to giving their dog a treat or two when feeling guilty about not being a good ‘pet parent’.

Three in 10 pet parents will also pamper their pooch if they’ve been home alone for too long, while 16 per cent have fallen for the puppy dog eyes and given in when their pet begs.

Glazebrook warns pet parents to strike a balance when treating; even treats have an energy – and therefore calorie – content. It’s always best to avoid over-feeding by allowing for the treats within your dog’s overall daily food intake.

“During the pandemic, most of us have been at home more than we would ever have been before. As we begin to return to work and go back to our daily routines, it is important to be clear when we, as dog carers, use treats and food with our dogs.

“I think it is crucial to make sure we don’t confuse our own guilt with overfeeding our dogs. Your dog’s biggest desire is to have your time and energy put into them. If you are going to use treats, use them in a game format and get your dog using their brain. Not only will they love you for it, but you will need to use far less than just hand feeding them treats direct from the packet.

“Lily’s Kitchen offers some great advice on their website on game ideas that you can incorporate into your training programme for inside and outside the house.”

Lily’s Kitchen – the award-winning producer of proper food for pets – has launched a NEW range of treats tailored to support healthy hounds, from Chew Sticks made with natural ingredients to Woofbrushes that provide gut health support.

Sam Crossley, Marketing Director at Lily’s Kitchen, comments: “It’s really important that our four-legged friends are fed the right treats to keep them healthy and happy, but also that they really enjoy them and have a good time in their training.

“At Lily’s Kitchen we have an abundance of different treats for all types of dogs. From young puppies learning to be house trained, right through to senior treats that support joint health, or our new Chew Sticks which are perfect for keeping dogs entertained, we know that our treats are loved by pups up and down the country.”

Glazebrook offers her top five tips for giving pups treats

1. Choose treats that are made from real meat, real fruit and real vegetables. 

2. Select a treat according to what your dog is motivated by and how hard the thing you are trying to reinforce or teach is. Motivation is all about what your dog enjoys doing, if your dog is finding something hard then we need to make sure that what you are using is of interest, because if isn’t they may just give up.

Spend time figuring out what YOUR dog is most motivated by – each dog’s tastes are different, so don’t just assume you know. One of your dogs may prefer a biscuit consistency whereas another adores meaty chunks, work it out.

3. Remember that you should not starve your dog or withhold food to train them. Your dog is entitled to eat meals as well as being rewarded for the work you are asking them to do.

4. I’m a big fan of using treats and toys throughout a dog’s entire life. You still get paid for going to work, so should your dog. Please don’t stop reinforcing the things they enjoy or are learning.

Each dog and puppy is different, there is no one size fits all for how long or how often. The best thing to remember is that normal life offers you the best opportunities to reinforce and play; if your dog thinks it is fun, they will want to do it. So, while you stand waiting for the kettle to boil, play a find it game. When you are waiting to get the kid’s coats on, ask your dog to wait. I always recommend doing little and often as you are much more likely to play, to interact, to walk, and to train your dog if it feels do-able.

5. Encourage chewing on a daily basis. Chews may help a dog and a puppy process their day. It can also help to calm them and can assist in reducing teething pain in a young dog.

The Lily’s Kitchen soft new chews are suitable for an older dog whose teeth may be more wobbly or less strong than in their younger years.

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