I have to say that I was so strict with my first dog, Ramona, regarding treats. The agency that trained her really frowned upon treats and instructed me that she needed to work for me based on praise rather than treats. It made sense because they argued that if her working was dependent on treats and let’s say, for example, that I had fallen out of my wheelchair and was not able to reach any treats and I needed her to get the phone. What would I do?
Therefore, I gave Ramona very few treats. When Morgan came along, he was trained by another agency with a different philosophy about treats. They felt treats could and should be used as a reward when appropriate. Morgan loved the treats but he was not as much of a “chow hound” as I lovingly referred to Ramona. She was a complete maniac for treats; but Morgan, although he loved them, was not as possessed and obsessed by the thought of a treat.
So, here I am with service dog number three, Whistle, still debating about how to effectively use treats. I keep pondering how often and exactly when should I reward him with a treat? Whistle loves treats more than Morgan, but he is not quite as obsessed with treats as Ramona.
Another big issue for Ramona and treats was her weight. Whenever I would give her treats, she had an almost immediate and noticeable weight gain.
Whistle, on the other hand, is very lean and muscular. I monitor his weight closely and although I have been giving him regular treats, he has maintained a healthy weight. However, the dilemma continues. How often should I give my service dog treats and when? I adore all of my service dogs and I want to be good to them, but is giving them treats being good to them or am I negatively impacting their overall nutrition? And second, what kinds of treats should I be giving them? Organic, meat, veggies, fruit, etc.?
I was trained to give Ramona minimal treats for a variety of reasons and I always felt guilty after she was gone for not lavishing more treats on her. As a result, I have been much more lenient with Morgan and even more so with Whistle. My philosophy is, if it doesn’t interfere with their work performance or their health, then it should be okay.
What do you think? How do you dispense treats and what kinds of treats do you give your service dog?