I talk about using treats a lot with our SideKicks and I'm actually a little surprised that this particular topic hasn't made it to the blog yet!
Every now and then, I get asked something along the lines of, "Do I need to bring treats with me on every walk?" I touched on this a little in another blog post, but I'm not saying that you NEED to take treats on every walk...I think there are a few (at least five) reasons for why you would definitely WANT to bring treats with you on every walk!
1) Having treats with you means you can reward behaviors (literally any behaviors) you like seeing!
Peeing or pooping on grass (instead of the kitchen rug)? Reward that!
Come back to you when called? Reward that!
Offer a Sit at the curb before crossing? Reward that!
You're likely to see more of these things if you're able to reward them a bunch (the power of positive reinforcement, for the win!)!
2) Practice training exercises with your SideKick on a walk.
Fido may be a pro at Sit, Down, Stay, and others in the quiet of your kitchen or living room, but practicing them in a variety of locations helps your SideKick cement those skills!
Interested in off-leash work? Practice with high-value treats/rewards on your walks or at the park (with a leash on to start, of course, so the skills are in place before you remove the leash)!
Ever complain that your dog does really well inside, but they seem to lose all focus outside? Use those treats to practice (and start some place low-distraction to help yourselves)!
The outdoors provide a plethora of distractions and added difficulty for you and your SideKick when you're working on even basic behaviors that they "know" inside; , so bring treats (and be generous) to make yourself and your activities competitive!
3) Speaking of distractions...Treats make YOU more interesting! Let's face it, the distractions you encounter the moment you and your SideKick step outside make for A LOT of competition for your dog's attention. I'm only half joking when I tell people in class or sessions that they need to find ways to make themselves more interesting than a dead squirrel! It's unlikely that you'll stack up against all those distractions with some baby voice and a few ear scratches!
Treats - especially stinky, delicious, irresistible treats - can help give you a leg up over the competition, though! I recommend experimenting to find your dog's kryptonite and, as mentioned, always start some place lower distraction to work on getting your feet under you before moving some place more difficult for your dog!
4) In a pinch, treats can serve as a distraction from something that might stress out or scare your SideKick, giving you the chance to create a calm exit or a relaxed distraction!
Did you see a dog up the street while your dog was sniffing? Maybe get those treats right in front of your dog's nose and get them facing you, so they don't also see the dog!
Is there a motorcycle coming and you don't have much space to move away from the side of the road? Time for a treat bomb! Drop an entire handful on the sidewalk in front of you and your dog to keep them busy and distracted while the motorcycle goes by!
Are there some kids on bikes and tricycles ahead crossing the street that you'd like to avoid? Keep your dog busy feeding treats one at a time until the kids are a good distance ahead, then continue your walk!
In the above cases, the treats help us to keep our dogs distracted, while also, possibly, rewarding some calm, relaxed behavior in response to these things!
Note: treats should not be used as a distraction to get your SideKick CLOSER to the something that might scare or stress them out.
5) Treats can be used to distract an oncoming, off-leash dog. I KNOW a number of you have encountered this situation before! You're out on a walk with your dog - maybe your dog is good with other dogs; maybe your dog is afraid of dogs that are bigger than them; whatever the situation, a loose dog running up to the two of you on a walk is not the BEST way for another dog to say "Hello" and can be quite stressful. Tossing a handful or two of treats to the dog or away from you and your SideKick may help avoid a confrontation, altercation, or otherwise unfriendly interaction - and give you and your dog a chance to escape. It's not bulletproof - some dogs care more about getting to say Hi or are more concerned about the dog than they are about treats, but, at least, you have them with you as an option.
In short, you never know when you may need them, so bring treats with you on every walk, trek, hike, or public outing - just like you would poop bags and the leash!