Knowing the Difference Between Treating and Spoiling your Dog

It's increasingly difficult to know when you are treating your cub and simply spoiling them. That's why we got expert advise from Director and Trainer of Barney and Rosie's to give her opinion on the topic. 

Ria, being the owner of Barney and Rosie’s must be so hard. Not only do you walk dogs, you train them, groom them, offer boarding and daycare for them. Balancing all of this must be hard, but it has to take a lot of dedication, patience and confidence. I guess that’s what training your dog is all about. Can you explain very briefly the difference between ‘treating’ and ‘spoiling’ just in training terms?

Oh it does, I cannot tell you the blood sweat and tears that have gone into this business, as I’m sure all business owners will tell you. I have dedicated my life to dogs – I live and breathe them quite literally 24/7. Lucky I’m obsessed with them!

I knew when I set out dog walking in Kensington that I had to fully understand how a dog’s mind works if I wanted to make a career out of it. I studied very hard taking on every course I could, every podcast, every book, every article even from decades ago until now to see what every type of trainer had to say. Learning about every kind of training for every breed. I still do, I will never stop learning.

I would say ‘treating’ your dog is giving the dog something nice, something they find high value (for instance a little fishy sprat or a favourite toy) for doing something we tell them to do. For me, a dog doesn’t get something for nothing. Being cute doesn’t count I’m afraid!

My two rescue sausages Colin and Saffy, have their daily routine. They know that everyday after dinner they will get a home made chew or a radish. They only get the treat if they do a little obedience training first. We do this every evening, they know what’s coming, they look forward to it, and it is once a day. If I gave them a treat every single time they followed me into the kitchen and didn’t do anything, that would be spoiling.

‘Spoiling’ is having rewards all the time willy nilly, having too many toys they don’t play with. A treat or several for nothing. Human food designed for humans not dogs. Too much freedom – dogs with no manners, that run up to every dog and jump all over them giving them kisses might be super cute to us as owners, but would you like it if a stranger came up to you and did that? All these things are fine within moderation and if the dog does as I ask. I want to make sure the dog is not controlling me. 

Now you have defined the two terms, can you tell us the importance of treating your dog, whether they be a puppy or a fully grown cub?

Proper treat training and food lures began to be formally recognised in the 70s. In the whole grand scheme of training dogs, the hundreds and thousands of years we have done it, this is a relatively new thing. We treat dogs or use treats with dogs to help them learn something, for it to go in quicker because most dogs love food, right? Dogs learn from actioning something and getting a reaction. That good reaction means they will do it again and a bad reaction means they won’t.

Age does come into play, when puppies are growing up they have all their hormones which can affect training so there may be more treats involved in helping them learn. But remember - too many treats will create a spoilt pup! And this includes using toys or attention in the training. A fully grown dog will be more set in their ways but treating whilst training always helps them learn quicker. Still very important.

When people adopt dogs (no matter what age) and they have had a hard life, we as humans try whether consciously or not, to compensate for how bad their life has been in the past. We think by spoiling the dog it’ll make them happy but very often it causes other problems. Occasional treats and having very strong, firm boundaries will settle a rescue dog in far quicker than spoiling.

We know it’s important to treat your cubs but we also know it’s incredibly hard not to give in to those button eyes, boopy noses and floofy paws, but when it comes to spoiling your cub, when do you know enough is enough? How, as an owner, can you identify that you are in fact spoiling your dog over treating them?

Behaviours such as separation anxiety, aggression, problems with toilet training – if these weren’t proved to be hereditary or because of a health issue, these can start to be displayed if a dog is not treated as a dog but as a human baby or a child. They can start snapping at other dogs if they approach their owner, take on roles and jobs e.g. guarding the owner that we don’t need and didn’t ask for.

Begging for attention because they get it all the time or barking/whining to be fed from the table is just not acceptable, and is an example of being spoilt. If you notice you are giving your dog a treat be it food, love or playing if they bark to ‘keep them quiet’, that is a sure sign of a spoilt dog. If you notice they follow you somewhere several times a day and you give them a treat because they are being so cute - spoilt.

Dogs love to learn and by training with them, using food treats (to begin with, we phase them out with training eventually) we create a really strong bond with them. Spoiling can also affect the dog so badly they become very anxious because they are relying on us for too much of whatever it is we are spoiling them with.

It is honestly so easy to spoil your cub(s), but there are obvious health issues that can stem from over treating your dog. For example, over walking an older dog who needs to rest more, even if their cub brain thinks they are a pup still. Or, giving puppies too many treats to train them.

It is really important that owners know what their cubs want compared to what they need. Can you outline how we identify this?

As an owner or a new puppy/dog owner, it is so important to do your homework on the breed of dog you are getting or have. A working cocker spaniel will not have the same health issues, allergies, physical needs as a bulldog for example. If you are going to get a working breed because they might ‘look nicer’ please go to a shoot and watch them work, do as much research as you can. We originally got dogs to use as tools, there are centuries of jobs in dogs that we have bred, that gives them the breed and the characteristics we love, but also some hereditary health problems too. So walking your Labrador for hours when they are a puppy because they love it and have so much energy will most likely lead to terrible hip and joint problem when they are older. It’s never too late to adjust your dog’s routine!

I think one of the biggest concerns at the moment is definitely dog obesity. This 100% comes from over treating, over feeding or the wrong kind of food. Treats should only be used in training, or on your terms and they have to do something for that treat, once or twice a day maximum.

There are so many other things you can do with your dog rather than giving into them and spoiling them. If we think our older dog needs their hour walk everyday because they love it but actually is causing them problems and pain, do brain games instead and take the walk down to a more suitable amount of time. Mental stimulation will tire a dog far more than physical, in most cases.

With your company you undertake so much and welcome and say goodbye to many cubs. But your job must be so incredibly rewarding, knowing you have helped a family train their dog or give a dog a new home. In 3 words can you describe your job? Here at WYLD CUB we would describe our job as: integral, fabulous and energetic.

It really is, it’s amazing to see the puppies grow up and what lovely, good boys and girls we have in our lives!! But the three words would be: challenging, emotional, heaven. If I was allowed four, I would also add on stinky

 

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I don't know about you readers, but I feel I need to have a few words with my cub! But more importantly, I feel educated, don't you?

Ria extended her advice by adding:

"I would like to add dogs like Cockerpoos will need regular trips to the groomer, to be brushed at least once or twice a day. You may love how long and fluffy their hair is but they will be in so much pain if they get matted. In this case, and only this case, you may spoil a dog taking them for a pamper day because their coat demands it! And always remember a dog is not a toy or an accessory, they are animals and we must treat them with respect, kindness and love and not with spoiling!"

We truly thank you Ria for such insightful, inspiration and truthful facts, advice and honest answers. 

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Barney & Rosie's Instagram: @barneyandrosies