Training with treats and other food based rewards is a great way to motivate your dog and speed the training process along. Most dogs are highly motivated by food rewards, and treat training using this kind of positive reinforcement is used to train all sorts of animals, including tigers, lions, elephants and even house cats.
Before you begin a treat based training session, however, it is a good idea to test the dog to make sure that food will motivate him through the session. Begin around the dog's regular meal time by taking a piece of its food and waving it in front of the dog's nose. If the dog shows an enthusiasm for the food, now is a great time to start the training. If the dog shows little interest, or none at all, it may be best to put off the training until another time. Don't be afraid to delay the start of meal time in order to pique the dog's interest in training. The advantages of proper training will far outweigh any delay in feeding.
It is generally best to get the dog used to regular feedings, instead of leaving food out all the time. Not only does free feeding encourage the dog to overeat and increase the chances of obesity, but a free fed dog may never be fully motivated in reward based training.
The come when called command
Once your dog has shown interest in the food offered to it, it is time to begin the training. Since you already got your dog's undivided attention by showing it food, now is a great time to start. Give the dog a few pieces of food right away, then back up a few steps. While holding the food in your hand, so "come here". When the dog comes to you, praise him effusively and give him a few pieces of food.
After the dog is coming to you easily, add a sit command and hold the collar before you give the food. After the sit command is mastered, other commands, and even some tricks, can be added. Food based positive reinforcement training is the best way to teach a variety of important behaviors.
One good exercise is the sit, stay, come when called exercise. This exercise can begin with the owner walking the dog, then stopping and asking the dog to sit. After the dog is sitting quietly, the owner backs away and asks the dog to stay. Ideally the dog should continue to stay until called by the owner, even if the leash is dropped. At the end of the exercise, the owner calls the dog. When the dog comes to the owner, it receives food and praise from the owner. This exercise should be repeated several times, until the dog is reliably coming when called.
It is important to keep the training sessions short, especially in the beginning, to keep the dog from becoming bored, and from consuming its entire meal in the form of treats. After the dog has been responding regularly, the treats and food rewards can be slowly reduced. It is important to still provide these food rewards, but it may no longer be necessary to provide as many. After awhile, as well, it will not be necessary to give the dog treats every single time he responds as requested. In general, it should only be necessary for the dog to receive a food treat one out of every five times he comes on demand. The other four successes can be rewarded with praise and scratches.
Once the dog understand the basics of the "come here" exercise, the basic exercise can be expanded, and many games can be created. These type of games can be great fun for owner and dog alike, as well as a great learning experience. Some off leash work can be introduced as well, but it is always best to start with the dog in a safe environment, such as a fenced back yard. For variety, you can try taking the dog to other safe environments, such as a friend's house, a neighbor's fenced yard or a local dog park. Try turning the dog loose in these safe places, and practice the come when called exercise. Always praise the dog extensively, scratch him behind the ears and tell him what a good dog he is. The goal should be to make coming to the owner a more pleasant experience than whatever the dog was doing before he was called.