Traditionally, titbits given to dogs outside their regular meals are labelled ‘treats’. Pet shops sell ‘treats’ and we traditionally refer to any food the dog gets by hand for doing nothing as a ‘treat’.
I feel this ‘treat’ word gets in the way of converting those people who’ve ‘had dogs all their lives’ to positive, reward-based training methods.
They commonly ‘don’t believe in giving their dogs treats all the time’ and for this reason refuse to carry food rewards around with them.
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘to treat’ as to give someone something as a favour, present or gift.
Another source defines ‘a treat’ as something pleasant that is unexpected or that is offered as a surprise’.
Defined thus, I wouldn’t want to be ‘treating’ my dogs all the time either.
After all, if treats, given for doing nothing much apart from looking cute, are given too frequently surely they stop being ‘treats’ anyway so far as being unexpected or special is concerned. Treats come to mean very little; they are a random thing the owner produces or gives when the dog pesters at the treat cupboard.
Treats may just be part of a daily ritual, which can be nice if we don’t want those same food items to have value in terms of payment.
(I’m resisting getting started on the nutritional value of many commercial treats, dental chews and so on)!
If I want to mark behaviours that I want, if I want to say ‘thank you’ to the dog for doing as I have asked, if I want to use food for desensitisation or for calming as in Sprinkles (TM), then this food isn’t ‘treats’ at all. It’s reward or recognition of some sort.
If my dog comes running to me when I call, I’m really thinking ‘bingo’ as I feed her. If I drop food on the floor when the restless dog finally flops down, I’m thinking ‘bingo’. If I am dropping food on the ground in an environment that makes the dog uneasy and he eats, I’m saying ‘bingo’. There are all sorts of meanings for those special titbits we give our dogs in return for doing something we like, but ‘treats’ they’re not.
It’s harder to imagine people saying, ‘I don’t want to keep ‘rewarding’ my dog’ or ‘I don’t want to keep ‘thanking’ my dog’ for doing as I ask or ‘giving my dog recognition’ for doing something he finds hard.
I’m now going to start calling the titbits used in my work, ‘bingos’.
If my clients think of them as ‘bingos’ it could make it easier for them to know those moments when using food is appropriate.
Here is the story of a little dog I went to whose lady believed her dogs should ‘do as I tell them’ and ‘didn’t believe in bribing them’. Treats out of the blue for doing nothing were acceptable, though. The rewards the little dog eventually earned for being brave had excellent results.