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Treat-Training: How, Why & Healthy Treats

Treat based rewards are good for young dogs, but when do you give a treat and what treats are best for your growing sporting dog?

Treat-Training: How, Why & Healthy Treats

A food-based reward system can be a great form of training for young sporting dogs. (Photo By: Kali Parmley)

In early development, puppies have short attention spans and they’re motivated by their bellies. A tasty treat dangling in front of their nose sends a sensory overload to their little brains and their attention is now on what will get them that treat.

How and when you reward your puppy is important to understand before throwing treats at your dog. Rewarding a puppy at the wrong time can result in training undesirable traits, which are hard to reverse once enacted. And what treats are best for your young sporting dog? Are there treats that are better for their development than others?

Treat Rewards

When you bring your puppy home, it’s important to start obedience training as soon as those four paws cross the doorway. Obedience is key to developing a well-rounded and finished bird dog. A puppy who is calm, cool, and collected from obedience training is more receptive to formal bird training as they grow. Why? Because they can focus on the task at hand. Who learns better: a child who is sitting calmly at their desk, or a child running amuck in the back of the classroom?

It's important to use treats only when the desired behavior is performed. For example, when teaching a puppy to sit, your pup’s rear-end should be touching the ground before that treat is administered. If your puppy lifts his tail even an inch off the ground to grab for the treat, reinforce what you’re asking before handing the reward over. “Sit” means sit, it does not mean hover an inch off the ground.


Positive Marking

Treats are enticing for young dogs, but they also aim to please you as their handler. Dogs can read your body language and the tone of your voice, both of which are just as important while treat training. As you advance in obedience training with your puppy, it’s important to understand positive marking.

“Dogs can feel our energy and use this information as they make choices,” says Talmage Smedley, Gun Dog Training & Behavior columnist. “I have learned to use positive markers to help a dog connect certain sounds with positive rewards.”

dog trainer giving an english setter puppy a dog treat
Using positive markers and treat rewards are a great way to effectively communicate to your dog they've performed a desired behavior. (Photo By: Kali Parmley)

A positive marker to Smedley is using the word “yes” when a dog performs a desired action he is asking for. If he is teaching a dog to sit or heel, when the dog obeys, Smedley says “yes!” and then immediately follows the upbeat word with a treat reward.

“The dog will begin to expect the treat reward every time he hears ‘yes,’” explains Smedley. “Once I have accomplished this connection, I can use the word to communicate that the dog has done the correct task and will be receiving a reward.”


Connecting positive markers with a reward will help your training down the road with your bird dog. You don’t want your dog only obeying a command when a treat is present. Instead, positive markers will be your reward as your dog ages into adolescence and adulthood. As you practice obedience with your puppy daily, gradually ween him off treats by giving a treat every two times he obeys, overlayed with a “yes.” Increase the duration between rewards and actions. Eventually, your dog’s reward is now the excitement in your voice and body language that he has pleased you.

Healthy & Happy

The treats you choose to fuel your puppy’s belly should also be powering his mind and muscles at the same time. This can be accomplished by rewarding your puppy with nutrient-dense treats, such as those from VICTOR® Super Premium Pet Food (VICTOR).

The VICTOR Hi-Pro Bites are made with treat training in mind for your young bird dog. Packed into every high-protein treat is real beef, no artificial colors or flavors, and VICTOR’s VPRO® Blend, which is made specifically to maximize the genetic potential in your growing pup.

upland bird hunter with dead pheasnt and english springer spaniel on tailgate giving a dog treat
With these treats, each time you reward your pup for an obedience task performed correctly, you’re feeding your pup a nutrient-rich treat that is also helping his development for down the road. (Photo By: Kali Parmley)

“The Bites are great for young puppies and their development because of the nutrition found in the treats,” explains Michael Keith, VICTOR’s Senior Vice President of Nutrition and Supply Chain. “It’s been created to intensify the genetic potential of every dog. We are following the science to give your dog a healthy treat.”

Puppies need nutrient dense food as they grow to aid in healthy development in not only muscular structure, but also for their joints, gut health, and brain activity. The VPRO® Blend found in VICTOR’s line of treats features key ingredients that aid in healthy skin and coat, a strong immune system, healthy digestion and efficient immune response to harmful bacteria or viruses your pup may encounter.

Treat training is effective for not only obedience training, but also providing your sporting pup with additional nutrition throughout its early development. As your pup progresses from treat training to positive markers, use the Hi-Pro Bites as a reward after a long training session. If those are too small for your growing and developing puppy, Victor’s Hi-Pro Strips are a step up and offer more calories per treat to reward your hard-working bird dog after a long day in the field.

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