Why Treat Training Doesn’t Work

Positive reinforcement dog training is everywhere. In fact, you will have a hard time finding a dog training program that isn’t pure positive training and using treats.

Treats do have their place in training your dog. And if your dog is food motivated, then you can see quick results using treats.

But, and that’s a big BUT, treats won’t train your dog around major distractions. Say another dog that wants to play, a squirrel running through the yard, or the mailman ringing the doorbell.

Should I train my dog using treats?

Don’t Make These Dog Training Mistakes

After adopting our pup, Ginger, I searched for local training programs. The only options were treat-based training programs. I searched for any dog training recommendations in my area and took a chance with a local positive reinforcement basic obedience dog training class.

I can express how disappointed I was with this training class after the first day! We fed Ginger an entire baggy full of treats during a 45-minute class. Seriously, I’m surprised she didn’t have a belly ache after that!

My husband and I have been dog owners together for over 25 years… have trained several dogs using training methods WITHOUT treats. But I really wanted a structured program to attend but I couldn’t find a program that didn’t use treats.

So, what did I learn in 6 weeks and $125 later? Feed my dog treats (an entire baggy full every class) and my dog will SIT, DOWN and COME to me.

But only when I have a high-valued treat in my hand. Really? I could have done this at home in 3 days watching YouTube videos!

Is Treat Training Bad?

Treats can be good for training your dog, but all in moderation. With a Positive Reinforcement Dog Training program will be teaching your dog basic commands using treats to lure the behavior.


Rescue Dogs 101's Natural Remedies Reference Guide

Rescue Dogs 101's
Natural Remedies Reference Guide

Here are just a few natural remedy ideas you'll find inside:

  • Allergies
  • Diarrhea
  • Minor wounds
  • Anxiety
  • Fleas and ticks

There is no correction in Positive Reinforcement Dog Training (aka treat training). If the dog does not perform the command, you continue to offer the treat or get a higher-value treat. Something tasty and more motivating.

But what happens when you and your dog walking through a busy park. There are a lot of people walking their dogs, kids playing frisbee, bicyclists riding by, squirrels running from tree to tree … and you have trained your dog how to sit and walk next to you with treats and pure positive training. Does your dog choose a treat or that squirrel that just ran by you?

If he chooses the squirrel, what’s the worse that happens? He gets to have the fun of the chase and then what? You give him a treat for coming back to you? PLEASE NO!!!!

This would be like your teenage daughter sneaking out of the house at night, coming home after you called her, then offering her a cupcake because you are so happy she’s home safe. Really?

Treat training is great when there are NO distractions around you.

The fact is, that treat, no matter how high-value it is, will lose the battle of squirrel vs. treat. Another dog vs. treat, the other dog is the winner. The UPS man vs. treat, the UPS man wins. You get the idea, right?

Our goal is to train our dogs so they WANT to listen to us over ANY other distraction, whether it be another dog, a squirrel or a kid running by. And trust me this is not an easy task!Click to Tweet

When Should I Use Treats When Training My Dog?

There is a place for treats when training your dog. Treats are especially great for training a puppy.

Here are 4 great opportunities to use treats in training:

  1. Potty training a puppy or dog can be easy when using treats. Take him outside, and immediately after he finishes peeing or pooping, give him a treat and say “good boy”.
    Repeat this every time he goes potty outside. Don’t be shy about getting excited about your puppy going potty outside. It should take less than a week depending on the age of your puppy. Puppies bladders aren’t mature enough to hold it very long, so take him outside often.
  2. Treats are a great way to train young puppies (6 months and younger) basic commands. You can use treats to teach him to SIT, DOWN, COME, and do fun tricks such as PAW.
    Agility and tricks are great opportunities to use treats. These are fun activities for the dog and treats are a fun way to lure him to do what you are asking him to do.
  3. Crate training your dog with treats can motivate him and teach him a crate is a good place. Simply toss a few treats into the crate and let your dog go into the crate on his own. Do not push or force him into his crate. Learn more about crate training your dog.
  4. Occasional treats are great to reinforce any training commands, but should not be used as the only tool.

If Treats Won’t Work With My Dog Around Distractions, What Can I Do?

I think a lot of people that get a dog have an idea of how they want that dog to behave. TV shows and movies put this picture-perfect dog in our head, that runs around off-leash, comes when called, and never gets into mischief!

But the fact is those TV dogs have been trained by trainers for hundreds of hours to get that awesome behavior. Dogs aren’t born to understand people, it’s our job to train the dog to understand. So please don’t expect to adopt a dog, walk through your front door and be perfect.

We as dog parents have the responsibility to train our dogs to understand right from wrong, what SIT, DOWN and COME mean.

Your words, praise, and affection, a simple collar and leash can go a long way in training your dog. In fact, you can train your dog at home in as little as 3 minutes a day.

Finding the right training program for you and your dog is key. Click here to learn How to Find the Perfect Dog Trainer and more about the different types of dog trainers. In my opinion, finding a balanced dog trainer is your best solution.

How To Train Your Dog Without Treats

The biggest difference I found with Balanced Dog Training is the lack of constant treats and the use of corrections. Not obeying your commands results in consequences.
A correction is not yelling or beating your dog. A correction can be a jerk of the leash or a firm voice saying “no”.

The results of a balanced dog training program will be:

  • Your dog will listen to you regardless of the distraction
  • You don’t need to carry treats around with you 24/7 for the life of your dog
  • Your dog will lead a happy life knowing what you expect of him

I believe that positive/treat training has become today’s popular method only because people are afraid to discipline their dogs! And somehow correcting your dog has been twisted into animal cruelty.

Please ask yourself, is it crueler to:

A) Never discipline your dog and allow him to misbehave and do as he pleases whenever he wants, pull on the leash whenever he sees a dog, bark at strangers, etc.


B) Train your dog and correct your dog’s bad behavior one time with a good correction so he learns right from wrong the first time?

Choosing the right training method is very important to you and your dog. You as the owner need to be comfortable with your choice, but keep in mind what you expect from your dog.

Using treats can be fun for you and your dog, but remember that we all need discipline in our lives to be balanced.

P.S. Leave a comment below, I would love to hear all about how you use treats with your dog!

P.S.S. Head over to read 5 Quick Ways to Train Your Dog in 3 Minutes a Day.

Sharing is caring!

About the Author Debi@RescueDogs101

Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, three dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society.

Leave a Comment:

Add Your Reply