treats? no treats? training debate.


Experienced Member
I used to never train with treat b/c I considered it a weakness and somehow a failure of my efforts to inspire or my dogs devotion. What I've learned in the voyage since then is how to think more like a dog. I also was humbled by the wonderful courage and character of many dogs, rescues, and fosters along the way. Envying well trained dogs, even though mine were excellent they weren't as enthusiastic or inventive.

It took me getting my fearful dog to training and learning a new perspective, hers.

I saw this article posted on another forum and found it very interesting. Despite instant success in teaching a difficult task the owner of the dog is shaking her head counting treats. Previously the weave poles were a failure but with treats a success. I think the biggest misconception is that once started you need treats forever for everything. There is a correct way to reward (not lure) and fade to random/seldom that cements your success.

Here the science speaks and I am reminded that an open mind is my best tool second to a sense of humor.

I'd like to hear thoughts and success failure stories. For non-food motivated dogs what works and doesn't. I've been down that road too. The goal is guidance for me in perfecting this art and discussing success/failure of my own and perhaps clearing up some myths. I think most people I know personally that do treat and aren't pleased treat too much and don't fade correctly (according to research). I'm guilty of it sometimes too so I have no claims of perfection. :dogrolleyes:


Experienced Member
For years, I was against clicker-training. Not through any scientific reason I should add, but I felt that I was being constantly bullied into it by the supporters. I believe that if something is as good as the masses claim, then it can speak for itself, and it doesn't need to be constantly rammed down the throats of others. Once people had given up trying to badger me into it, then, and only then, was I willing to look at it subjectively, rationally and with an open mind. It's hard to do either when people are constantly trying to push you into it, I feel. It is no accident that it was really Silvia Trkman was the one who finally inspired me to give it a try, and she was the one who I have never once heard try to advertise it as a method. She, as always, just lets the results do the talking. (I believe she mentions the clicker only once on her entire website - I could be wrong.)

While I do now clicker-train, I still don't like the, forgive me for saying this, air of superiority that a great many clicker-trainers seem to carry. Many seem to believe that they have the one and only true method of training and I just don't buy that. Of course, the same could be said of the more traditional training group as well, but I have found them to be more accepting of the notion that clicker training might work than the clicker-trainers are of the notion that traditional training can also work, often citing supporters of the latter as 'out of date' or 'cruel'. Again, I'm not buying. I know many traditional trainers and I'd be happy to leave my dog with any one of them. It isn't about method, it's about attitude. If you don't have the right attitude to teach a dog then you can be 'cruel' or 'out of date' whichever side of the camp you sit on. However, I've gone on a tangent now...

My current dog, Ellie, is one of those dogs who is not food motivated at all. Not one bit. You could sit trying to coax her with food all day long and get nowhere. For such dogs, the key is finding that one thing that they do need. In Ellie's case, it's a tennis ball. Of course, this makes the fluidity of training a little more tricky as you can't just drop a treat into her mouth and continue. You have to throw the ball, wait for her to retrieve it, put it back in your pocket, etc. Add to that, the fact that Ellie is a litter runt and thus prone to very weak nerves, and things can move very slowly indeed. However, what clicker training has cemented into my head is that training is no race. It takes as long as it takes to teach a behaviour.

Considering Ellie's nerves, clicker-training has been a success for me. Do I find it the quickest method? No, far from it. Do I find it the most reliable even? No, not really. However, it is the most fun and it is the path of least resistance and that, surely, has to be a good thing.


Well-Known Member
CollieMan;14314 said:
I felt that I was being constantly bullied into it by the supporters.
Actually, this is exactly what I felt, which is why I have only just begun clicker training with Bella. It's just the same reason that I take shows like the Dog Whisperer and It's Me or the Dog with a grain of salt. I think both methods have their faults and merits, and just because someone does it on tv doesn't mean you have to do it their way. My greatest successes came from here, where I could get many different methods to try from others who might have a dog with similar personalities to Bella, instead of one trainer who has in their mind that their way is the only way.

Bella is extremely motivated by food, so for the most part it's been easy to train her. But she's also a big people pleaser, so it's easy to reward her with excitement in my voice and a good petting. I admit I'm a little heavier on the treats right now, and I have to constantly remind myself not to give her one each time, but for the first time she successfully performed at the dog park even though a good number of owners and dogs were around to possibly distract her. She has also gotten better at listening for me and is very well behaved (except for the jumping we're still working on...:dogblink:).

I've said before that Bella in a way "tells" me what she's willing to learn. If it's something that she's not successful at after two or three tries, I abandon it and try something else. It seems as she gets older she understands some better; for example, rolling over. She couldn't do it to save her life...and the other day it almost seemed to click in her mind and now she does it easily...sometimes without me even asking her. *L*

The biggest thing I've learned (which really isn't any great revelation, it was just in my own "ah-ha" moment), is that dogs are just like students; everyone learns at a different pace for different reasons, and has different learning styles. If something doesn't work once, come back to it later when it's fresh and with a different method. I'm just as much a student as Bella is...and we're having a great time learning together. Isn't that what it's all about?


Experienced Member
I always thought a dog should be rewarded if he's willing to work with me.
OK, I started training about one and a half year ago, so I got into the middle of the whole thing with the clicker, and positive reinforcements and stuff like that.
And like Silvia Trkman said, a dog works best if he works for himself.
And I think this is what really describes clicker training. The dog should work because he loves it, and the easiest way for me to achieve this is to reward. A lot. :)
And I'm VERY generous with treats in every training... When we talk about agility, freestyle, or obedience. :)


Experienced Member
First thank you so much for the great thoughts and opinions. I started as a traditional trainer 20+ years ago and started weekly (sometimes more) classes 4 years ago and luckily never felt bullied into clicker. I got into class to help my shy dog and we all got hooked on more stuctured training and activities. The first class trainer instructed I bring bits of treats for rewards and handed me a clicker the first night and said try this if it works. Both dogs learned like sponges because the primary reinforcement was food while clicker is the secondary reinforcement (bridging back to food).

While the clicker had varying degrees of effect on each dog it was mainly what got my shy dog back to herself this year after a fear regression. The click to calm with a digital ping got her back from a light/sound/dog/people reactive mess to her sweet calm quiet self. A regular box clicker was stimulating, the soft ping was perfect. She was attacked by a dog in agility class for those that haven’t read her story there. It was a bad year for her.

In general clickers seems to make things simpler for me and the way I train b/c I can capture instants in time and mark them. Once the dog gets it though mostly the clicker should go away for that specific thing (unless there’s a problem). I did find out the hard way to fade treats correctly. :dogrolleyes: I didn’t really take a clicker class or read a clicker book until this year. I am in a Karen Pryor clicker class now that’s really an entirely different sport and free shaping is very intriguing. It’s not your traditional trainer’s clicker.

One of the big traditional trainers/writers/breeders in the US recently reversed his opposition to training with markers (Ed Frawley at Leerburg kennels). I always thought he was a little out there with not allowing other people to pet his dogs b/c he wanted a bond only to him etc. He had much the same aversion you all mentioned having clickers rammed in his face for years.

I hope I haven't come across as pushy on clickers, and apologize if I have. I am guilty of getting really excited at what I've been able to achieve so fast at a level of complexity and reasoning that I never could have hoped for before. Along the way I learned that my experience is def not complete. Hence the desire to hear more opinions and try new things, the different perspectives are great to explore.

Other dogs, like a foster that was too over threshold to eat, and had never seen a toy, I had to find different motivations for. She didn’t really ever get the clicker but she loved liver and ignoring her worked wonders in getting the shut down dog to power back up and actually eat the liver.

My puppy’s breeder made sure to rotate food, play, toys early in life to help balance her pups. She does seem the most diversely motivated of all my dogs. I'm the only one in any dog class that trains with other things than food and when boredom sinks in or overload happens we go tug or play that dog's favorite game or have a massage. At some point my dog usually decides food is not as interesting as something over there or just gets overloaded. For my dogs it seems food isn’t always the answer but most of the time it is what they prefer. Toys, pelts, and play/retrieving are all close seconds.

The problem I have with using both food reinforcement and punishment (as I see on TV) is that now you have twice the timing to get just right so you won't poison cues and significantly lower spontaneous offered responses. That’s why I stick to rewarding what I wanted and ignoring or saying whoops for the unintended. Punishment gets left off except for the occasional time out from too rough play or repeated barking after calming twice doesn’t stop it. Aversive punishment is not on the agenda and I haven’t needed it since I learned more how my dogs think.

Some of you mention the Ah-Ha moment. My big Ah-Ha was when I realized I was I competition with the outside world to be more interesting to my dog than anything else at important moments. I like the idea of a dog working better if he works for himself. It seems a combination of these two concepts is currently successful for me.

My shy dog and rescues/fosters taught me that dogs most def learn at different speeds and levels and can tolerate different things to individual limits. Many dogs including one of my own develop horrible problems as a result of forcible restraint (or being forced to endure something), as at a vet. This is where I see the biggest opportunity for damage control and a non-traumatic/damaging vet visit. Food at the vet makes a huge difference. I noticed that a large number of videos on ARBI’s site now are about managing vet office visits.

Twenty ago when I heard my ACD screaming at the vet and went into the back to find 5 techs laying on her muzzled for a blood draw I was furious. She'd never had a previous problem but they were rushed and made a previously fearless dog into a mess in 5 minutes. It took years to get her over vet phobia. I now don't allow my dogs out of the room and book double time and don't have much of a problem. My shy dog that used to growl at the vet went to sleep this week while he was talking. When they drew blood licking peanut butter off a spatula and scratching her ears was distracting enough that she didn’t notice.

I've had a few friends make fun of me desensitizing my dogs to the dremel. Since I'm a bit disabled I really don't have a choice but to be sure they want to do it. I can't really restrain either nor would my shy dog react well to that since our trust is very important. I saw something in the news recently about a woman being attacked by her 8yo Pyr while doing his nails. She thinks he may have been abused as a pup and had been in shut down until that day but who knows. Enduring something or just shutting down may look the same but results may end up in explosion if the shut down becomes intolerable.

In the end being a physicist and a statistics nerd by profession for decades I always come back to the science. What are people testing and what is working and are these large scale double blind studies or even triple blind and setting aside TV what are the tens of thousands of professionals out there publishing. It seems the biggest take always for me this year is the emotional response training causes in the dog and poison cue. Where even a light pull on a leash creates a negative emotional response in the dog so that it offers spontaneous behavior 60% less often and is only accurate half the time now. Interesting though somewhat detailed b/c it is geared toward a research audience. I’ll find it if anyone wants a very dry but interesting read, it’s a masters’ thesis. On the surface silky leash training seems the same as leash pulls but is very different to the dog. You condition the dog before walking on leash to giving loose leash in response to light pressure. It’s on our list.

Thanks for the time to share your opinions and words. You all obv know a LOT about training and it’s very helpful. I do look forward to reading your posts as I do everyone’s in the future. I invite anyone to feel free sharing alternatives if your experience or research gives you past success my dogs will enjoy. :dogtongue2:


Experienced Member
The problem I have with using both food reinforcement and punishment (as I see on TV) is that now you have twice the timing to get just right so you won't poison cues and significantly lower spontaneous offered responses.
The biggest issue I have with clicker training is the silence and the rigidity of many trainers. Have you seen all the videos where you see countless people clicker training their dogs, and not one person dare speak or move for fear of polluting the outcome. They act as though they are dismantling a bomb, not engaging with a living and breathing animal!

I know both Ellie and I would die of boredom if we conducted our training in the same way. As such, that was one thing that I immediately decided I would dispense with. I like my training sessions to be upbeat, natural, and engaging. Me, I do clicker train, but I waffle on to and laugh with my dog from start to finish and I'd happily accept a challenge to teach her a new behaviour in the same time as anyone who believes that we have to be quiet and static. Again, I think we have to look at the individual dog. And therein lies the real problem I think...

For me, this is the problem with investing too much in science, particularly when it comes to relating with dogs. Science has a habit of imposing blanket solutions and scenarios. If there is one thing that I am absolutely certain of, it's that no two dogs are the same, no two trainers are the same, and no two situations are the same. Some dogs will take to clickers like a duck to water, other dogs may still accept the clicker, but they may respond more readily and reliably to more engaging and interactive training. Some will accept the silence while others, like my own, thrive on the movements and the sounds. I think we humans are sometimes guilty of training dogs in the methods that we want to use, not in the methods that the individual dog responds best to.

My big Ah-Ha was when I realized I was I competition with the outside world to be more interesting to my dog than anything else at important moments.
And there it is I think. If there is a dog-training secret, I'd suggest it's wrapped up in those few words. It's not about which method is best, which tools we use, which breed is the smartest, or who eats first or who is alpha, it's about making yourself the most engaging thing that your dog will ever know. I can walk into any field where there are dogs and owners and almost instantly spot which dogs are going to be the ones that come running over to me - they are the ones whose handlers are too busy talking on their mobile phones, or talking about how bad their dog is to other dog owners, or walking along with their dog as though it's a funeral procession. It's little wonder that the dog decides to run off to where there are balls bouncing and people running around, in these cases.

In the end being a physicist and a statistics nerd by profession for decades I always come back to the science.
Me, I always come back to watching the dog and seeing how it responds. No scientific paper I've ever read has been able to tell me whether the dog that is stood in front of me is enjoying what it is doing. Don't misread me, I am a computer programmer by trade and so I value logic, but I have to be honest and say that my least successful years of dog ownership and training have been those where I was too wrapped up in reading books, journals, and opinions so I could do the 'right thing'. Somewhere along the line (and I really have to thank Silvia again for this) I just learned that they're worthless to a large extent as the individual authors never met me or my dog. I've saved a fortune in books since! :)

At this point, I was going to write about a meeting I recently had with a couple who had spent too much time reading and got themselves into a panic over their two dogs as a result, but I'll save that for my blog I think... :)


Experienced Member
Physical interaction, pets, praise, and talking with my dogs is something I'll always do, clicker or not. Colllieman I agree that the silence is a little rigid and too little feedback for me and both of my dogs. My goal is to make all of our training fun.

And now you see the result of science nerds communicating. :dognowink: When I say I come back to the science I mean simply positive training. I have a lot of friends and some people that worked on my house last year that thought I was weird for calming my dogs and desensitizing them about barking at deer instead of yelling or spraying them with vinegar in the face. I might get immediate results that way but what did I really teach. I would much rather teach that deer are no big deal and come see me about them.

I don't feel any need to dominate my dogs or any notion that they dominate me. I find that entire mindset misinformed. Redirecting in an effective manner always gets me what I want.

Puppy was really barking in class last night. Only one other dog/trainer team showed and the instructor asked that I tether my dog while we worked on one side of the big room. I still can't really use my shoulder after surgery so I think she's worried I'll get hurt. We did some brainstorming about her being frustrated etc. because she wasn't barking at the other dog but at the trainer. She likes the trainer and was demanding attention by barking. I said if I just get her moving I can redirect all this. She is acting like this because she's frustrated and I can't engage her at this level. So I got her trotting, started interacting with her, and she settled down right away to a nice loose leash walk. Then we could do targeting and all of her other focusing exercises on me.

At the end of class I asked if we could take both dogs off leash and let them play. My girl really likes this little 10 lb dog and at 55 pounds she's very gentle. So they ran all over the entire facility for about 15 more minutes. When I was ready to go I just waited until I thought she would come and called her. She came and we leashed up. Burning off some of that excess energy helped a lot too.

My thought is that clicker is a tool of positive training. I use it when it works and stop when I no longer need it. Food rewards are my most important tool which it took a training class to point out to me. I didn't realize the level of imprint that food helps make esp with puppies many years ago. That's when I realized there is always more to learn. :dogbiggrin:


Honored Member
Staff member
I too was not big on treat-based training, as all the treat-trained dogs I had seen would do nothing without them. But, these people weren't exactly "trainers," either. When I learned of clicker training, the idea seemed better than not using a marker but still using treats. But still I didn't really give it a go. I had pushed praise-based training for years, and was very young when I learned of clicker training. I began teaching basic commands to a variety of dogs using only praise as a reward--with success. Now mind you, I did not shove my dog's butt down to teach sit. I used the slightest amount of pressure with my fingertips just in front of the hips, and as soon as they responded to the pressure(even just starting to sit at first), the pressure went away and an enthusiastic(but not overenthusiastic) "Good boy/girl!" was given with lots of petting. Today so many clicker trainers look at these kinds of trainers with evil eyes and hate that they are forcing their dog into positions they do not want to be in. This really irritates me...I never, ever had a bad relationship with a dog who I trained this way. They never shut down with this training. I used these methods with very timid dogs, and never did they fall apart because of the "physical manipulation." It's all in the way this method is used.

Now today, I no longer use these methods. I gave clicker training a try with a shelter dog first with amazing results. He was a lab mix and did wonderful with clicker training. He learned quickly and seemed to really have a love for "working" for me. When I adopted Mud, she had been neglected, and I saw the use of food being beneficial both for her food aggression and for her confidence. This placed me as her sole food provider and she would have to work for it. A Border Collie with a busy mind is much less likely to have an aggressive mindset because of the food. She excelled wonderfully, and I really liked what I was getting from her. She loved training and still does, and would go nuts if we didn't learn everyday. As for her motivation, it's hard to say which she works harder for. She's very willing to work for treats or toys. She's more enthusiastic with toys, but for newer tricks food is the only way to go with her. And she likes that. Clicker training is the only method she's known today, and we have an amazing bond.

Rusty was trained with my original praise training methods shortly before I learned of clicker training. He did very well and is very eager to please. I recently started clicker training with him(with treats) and he is doing very well. The food made him more eager, and the marker(the clicker) helped him learn faster. As a pup, Zeke was neither food or toy motivated, but thrived on praise. He hadn't had much of a real "family" or one "owner" before, and when he was praised for doing something right it was like he'd been waiting for it forever. He was/is extremely timid and was very dependent on me. He wanted nothing but to be loved and snuggled, and would do anything just to be loved on. He learned all the basics in less than a week(his first week with me), and went on to learn back up and a few others, all through praise-based training. He had no interest whatsoever in treats, and I had the hardest time just getting him to eat enough. He loooooved snuggly toys(in particular, a giant snuggly moose that was 3 times his size as a pup), but using them in training proved unsuccessful. When Mud came along and taught him how fun toys were, he'd do ANYTHING in the world for a tennis ball. And now, he'd jump over the moon if someone threw a tennis ball that way.

I am now a big supporter of clicker training and have had wonderful success with many dogs. For me, it's all about the dog. If the dog thrives on praise, then I'm not going to push anything else. The dog decides what training method will work best for them, and the ONLY time I try to find an unbelievably tasty treat that they will work for is when I am trying to teach advanced tricks. (For instance, Zeke won't lure with tennis balls, but if I can find a treat he will work for, then I will use it and a clicker initially to help him learn it. He craves mental stimulation more than any dog I've ever known, so I will try to help him learn with really tasty treats.) I've used clicker training with toy motivated dogs with success as well.
I have 4 stipulations for any training method:
First and foremost, a happy dog.
The dog is not harmed in any way.
Both dog and trainer enjoy the training.
The trainer never loses his/her cool in an attempt to get "the best" out of the dog.

This means absolutely NO leash corrections, no yelling, nothing that will push the dog to the point of shutdown or even anywhere close to shutdown. I recently saw a video of a woman doing obedience practice with her Dalmation. Dallies are extremely sensitive dogs anyway and this woman obviously didn't comprehend that. She heeled for a while, did some retrieves, and then went back to the heel. When the dog didn't look at her when sitting before the heel, she would yank back on the leash with quite a bit of force. The formerly happy dog's ears would fall back as she looked at her owner, and her whole body just kind of went into shutdown. A reply to the vid said that she didn't need to use this kind of training to get the best out of her dog and that quite frankly it was cruel and not good for how the dog thought of the training. She was an entirely different dog during the rest of the training, before the leash corrections. Her body language was much less confident, less happy. She answered to this reply saying that the dog was clearly happy throughout the training and if the dog was happy then there was nothing to worry about. Another viewer retorted that she knew nothing about body language and that her dog clearly regressed after the leash corrections to her "happy" dog. It infuriated me but I didn't post a reply. I just left in search of videos of better trainers. It's not that the woman didn't care about her dog or that her heart wasn't in the right place; it was simply not knowing a better way and not being open-minded enough to want to know.

Snooks, you mentioned your bad vet visit...mine have never been anywhere near that serious, but Mud's last vet visit irritated me. We walked over to the scale and she was just stepping onto it. One of the ladies there stepped behind her and put both hands on her sides, pushing her onto it. When Mud is "forced" into situations, she shuts down. She was perfectly happy coming into the office, and when the woman tried to rush her onto the scale, her whole demeanor changed and she wasn't budging. I stepped in front of the lady, catching her off guard as she was forced to move out of the way or get run over. "She'll get on the scale on her own." I told her, trying not to sound irritated. I called Mud over and she walked right up on the scale, where I asked for a stand-stay until it registered. She stepped off with an, "Okay," and on we went to the exam room. Before our current vet who we've been with for years, my dogs often got rushed onto the scales and I stepped in. Since that's typically the beginning of the visit, that can screw up the dog right off. Not the way to start everything. I was very pleased with an emergency visit just this past year with our "backup vet." He's much closer than our other vet, but doesn't take large animals, so for canine emergencies he's our go-to guy. Mud's last visit we walked in, he got us back to a room, she got on the scale of her own will, he very gently lifted her onto the table, and he and his vet tech loved on her. No one rushed us, no one was rough or hurried. It was nice.

Our sessions are never silent. Lol. ^^ There is constant encouragement, praise, pointless conversation, etc. I do think that you have to be careful when you're talking, because you don't want to confuse the dog before you ever introduce a command. But, my pups are always praised for the right behavior, not just with the clicker and food. Our training sessions are broken up with play and lovin', and all of my dogs really enjoy training.

Anywho, I'm a fan of any training that results in a completely happy dog and trainer, with training sessions that are not stressful on either. Knowing what I know today with the experience I've had with clicker training and treats, I wouldn't go back to my former methods of training.