My husband and I recently welcomed Sadie, a springer spaniel, into our home. We adopted her through English Springer Spaniel Rescue of America's Rocky Mountain chapter, who had pulled Sadie from a shelter in Utah. At eight years of age, a person would think her training days are over. But, not so!
Sadie came to us knowing a few basic commands: sit, shake, and (not as much) come. Her “come” command is much better as is her “down” command. According to dog rescuer, trainer, and TV show host Brandon McMillan, a dog should know seven basic commands: sit, stay, down, come, off, heel, and no.
We are working on all of those. Heel, off, and no are the most difficult for her. Her springer instincts drive her to explore, whether every blade of grass or tree trunk on a walk or the food on the table or kitchen counter. However, she is responding more positively to those instructions each day.
Because she is food motivated, receiving a treat reward for her positive responses to the commands given works with Sadie. In fact, according to a recent study, dogs do respond better to food rewards in training than any other type of motivator, including praise and pets. McMillan uses treats when training the dogs on his show or in private. “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan also touts the benefits of using food during training exercises, and the American Kennel Club stresses the use of small, easy-to-eat tidbits for training.
What About Cats?
Cats can also be trained using treats. You should also use a clicker, a small device that makes a clicking sound. Command, click, treat; command, click, treat. Cats can be taught to walk on a leash, to shake hands, and to come. A woman in Nebraska even taught her cats agility in order to increase their activity level and stimulate them mentally using a clicker and treats.
Celebrity cat behaviorist and trainer Jackson Galaxy encourages cat owners to use protein treats to train their cat(s). He notes you may have to try a variety of types to find one your cat likes.
Training your dog or cat whether that’s basic obedience or fun tricks to provide them with physical activity or mental stimulation is best accomplished through positive reinforcement. Punishment or other negative techniques are not only harmful physically and mentally, but also can damage the bond between you and your pet.
Watch and listen to Brandon McMillan on this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgZro-RvMrE
Watch and listen to Jackson Galaxy discuss some tips on training a cat here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJcWoksdlOM