Once you have the clicker, the second thing you’ll need is really desirable treats. Chop some all-beef Kosher hotdogs (because they have less junky stuff in them) and some low-fat Swiss cheese into teeny tiny bits about the size of ¼ of your pinky nail. I’m not a proponent of feeding people-food to dogs, but these two items are pretty much irresistible, and because your pup is going to be working for food at this stage, you want to offer something smelly and yummy. You’re not going to be filling the puppy up on these tiny bits. They’re so small that each training session will probably only need a quarter sized piece of hotdog and one inch cube of cheese. For some small pups, all you need to do is cut the hotdog in half and let the dog lick the end as the treat. The idea is that the treat should take no longer than half a second to eat. If it takes longer than that, the pup will stop to chew, and your training session will be disrupted. For older or larger pups and dogs, some companies make special “training treats,” bite-sized soft morsels that are perfect for this kind of training. You can even cut those in half. Keep the treats in a handy treat pouch attached to your belt, or in a plastic baggie in your pocket. Always have the treats handy.
I’m not trying to get your pup to have a “will work for food” mentality. A lot of trainers don’t use food at all. But food is a great motivator for most puppies, and it’s the easiest way to get quick results. Eventually, you will fade the food reward until you only give it once in a while. However, while the pup is young and you’re focusing on training, irresistible treats can make the difference between an attentive pup and one that’s ignoring you.
If treats aren’t working – yes, there are some dogs that don’t respond well to treats – your dog may not be sufficiently hungry. Plan training sessions before you feed the pup. Some dogs will even work for their regular kibble when they’re hungry. If you’re worried about your pup becoming porky, try using his everyday food portion as the treats. If not, there are low-fat treats on the market.
Holding the Treats
Keep the treats in a bag attached to your belt or in a fanny pack. This bag should be easy for you to dig into quickly to grab a treat. You can even put the treats in a plastic baggy and put them into your pocket.
When the dog can see a treat in your hand you’re in danger of “luring” the dog rather than having him figure out what you want from him. You may want to elicit a “down,” but if you’ve got a treat in plain view, you might just get jumping up instead. Buster will know you have treats on you, even if he can’t see them. Show him the treat once and then put it inside your closed fist. Move your fist close to your belly or chest and then wait for the behavior you’ve been asking for. If you stick your closed fist out, your pup is likely to lick it and try to get the treat, and that’s not what you’re looking for. You do want him to know that you have the treat in your hand, however, but keep that hand out of reach until it’s time to give the reward.
Once your pup is used to this type of training and knows you have treats, you don’t even have to show him the treat. You can even hold the treat in your closed fist behind your back, especially if you have a dog that likes to stare at your fist instead of making eye contact and paying attention.