How to Use Treats to Play Games and Build Your Dog’s Vocabulary

For as long as there have been people “training” dogs, the dog treat has been a tool box staple. Most dog’s will eagerly comply to earn the reward. Like mice in a lab experiment their behavior can be manipulated with a simple reward for the forced behavioral scheme. In the mind of the dog it is a simple transaction – nothing more. Trainers too often build robot dogs.

A second way dog treats are used is out of love. Nothing specific from the dog is required. It’s just a part of your canine relationship. You can use them to play games, like hide-and-seek the biscuit or have your dog catch a tossed treat. No heavy behavior modification.

There is a third way you can use dog treats – to build your dog’s vocabulary by teaching (not training). This is simply an extension of the play activity. Start by tossing a treat to you dog, as a routine, a few times a day. After a week or so your dog will anticipate and be eager to engage with you. Try to toss the treat in a way that your dog can easily catch it in the air. If your dog misses, that’s okay. It will scramble to grab it off the floor. If your dog catches it, follow up with awesome praise. You now have a game that your dog will instinctively love to play.

Next your dog is ready to grow its vocabulary simply by playing the game. No training. No behavior mod. Simple learning while happily playing along. In my book The Heart of Your Dog I show how this is done. Here is the important vocabulary you can easily teach:

Drop It
Pick It Up
Get Back There
Bring It Here
Get It

Think of how you can apply these commands to different situations. When your dog gets into something it shouldn’t or is about to steal your food, “Drop It” is something your dog needs to understand.

Also, once a command like “Get Back There” is learned, it’s a small step to teach other things like “Get Over There” and the basic “Get” .

The most important benefit of using this technique is that, unlike behavior mod training, your dog will be eager to grow its vocabulary on its own, simply by listening and associating words. Once you teach 20-30 words your dog will become a lifelong learner and will spontaneously add dozens or hundreds of other words to its vocabulary. You won’t necessarily observe the connections your dog is making. Yet, behind the scenes your dog will better understand what is going on and feel more connected to you and your family circle. That’s exactly how you reach the heart of your dog.