It's incredibly sad when individuals try to scaremonger people in thinking that professionals who use "treat training" and enrichment are harming dogs. That we are causing fat, disease riddled and arthritic time bomb canines. This is just pure ignorance into what "treat training" is or looks like in reality. It also ignores key components of biological processes relating to the body's intake of food.
Note: From this point forward "treat training" will referenced as either positive reinforcement or reward-based training as "treat training" is meant as a dismissive term, like "purely positive".
That handsome guy on the right there, he will be 8 years old in January. No one ever believes he's that old. He's sprightly, muscular and has 0 aliments. In fact, his last blood test came back dead centre within normal ranges. The vet also remarked he had great teeth. He's had nothing but positive reinforcement training from the time he came to me at 8 weeks old. Enrichment? Every single day. At least 3x a day, in fact. He still has plenty of rewards whenever I'm teaching him a new cue or if I'm asking him to do something he may not entirely want to do at the time (like be a decoy dog when he really wants to be off-lead running).
The guy on the left is 18 months and a perfect weight. I get compliments DAILY on how fantastic he looks. He has about 6 lots of enrichment a day and still has regular training sessions.
I don't even walk my dogs everyday.
The point being there are 168 hours in a week. My dogs probably spend 10 of those hours consuming something.
And I'm a "treat trainer".
This is my profession.
I am passionate about enrichment and positive training.
I ask most of my basic training clients to train 3x a day for 5-15 mins.
That is ~45 mins of positive training.
Some of my behaviour clients see me 1-2x a week where we train for about 30-40 mins. They may do their own training in-between that time, but not always.
I ask for pea-sized, high value treats. What classifies as high value is dog dependent. Some dogs love cheese, some liver, some blueberries. Some will even work for their daily, normal food portion.
I'm often known to break up treats even smaller than what a client has given me.
Many clients will skip the dog's next meal in place of training.
I ask most dogs not to be fed before I see them.
I encourage my clients to feed any of their dog's regular food meals out of enrichment instead of a bowl and also do 1-2 extra enrichment activities a day. This could be with some food, but it can also be a whole range of activities which involve no food at all.
It is extremely naive to think that all we do as positive reinforcement trainers is give food out arbitrarily or that we do not have advanced knowledge on nutrition, especially when working with canine behaviour.
So what's the REAL issue to be worried about?
Poor food choices and genetics.
One of the very first things I talk to clients about is food, especially a dog's daily diet.
Diet and behaviour are intrinsically linked. If you feed high carbohydrates and poor protein sources (meat and animal derivatives) then you are not giving your dog's body good fuel to function, both mentally and physically...we won't even touch on gut microbiome, hormonal responses or the vagus nerve in this post.
This goes for treats as well. I train and teach using high quality, natural treats for training and enrichment.
Genetics is a trickier one because we do not always ask about health aside from common breed-related conditions when getting a puppy. Dogs can be bred too young to know if they will have genetic issues pop up later. Some do not keep in contact with the breeder and there are an increasing number of rescue dogs with no family history at all. This is why regular vet checks are important as your dog gets older. Blood tests every 6 months for geriatric dogs can be a good way to monitor for any conditions which may start creeping in.
Reward-based training promotes healthy, happy bonds between you and your dog unlike other forms of training which rely on various forms of punishment.
Are there overweight dogs? Yes.
If you want to know why, start looking at what food you feed. Read labels. Do research.
Wanna know more?
NOT WALKING YOUR DOG EVERYDAY: