Guest post by Candice Aaron
Usually, when training a dog, the trainer uses small, easy to chew bits of food or treats as a reward. These small treats are easily swallowed, which allows the dog to focus on the quick reinforcement of the desired behavior and then get back to training. However, bully sticks also make a terrific training tool, and have several specific applications.
1. Bully sticks can be used as a “jackpot” reward.
Different training goals and modalities can challenge each dog in a different way. Sometimes, if a dog is really struggling to work through a particularly difficult command, or is working very hard to demonstrate a behavior that is especially difficult (e.g., asking a reactive dog to remain calm while slowly exposing the dog to another animal), a “jackpot” reward can be helpful. A jackpot reward is a way of super-reinforcing the dog having demonstrated the desired behavior, by using a very special treat, in this case, a bully stick. The bully stick as a jackpot reward is like saying to the dog “wow, you did that really hard thing really well; awesome job, buddy, here’s a very special thing for you go enjoy on your own.”
2. Bully sticks can be used to signal the end of a training session on a high note.
At the end of a training session, especially one that has been challenging for your dog, it’s always a good idea to end on a high note. This helps the dog feel calm and conveys a sense of accomplishment for both dog and trainer, and positively reinforces for your dog that hanging in through the whole training session, even when especially challenging, is a good thing. A bully stick is a great last treat to use in a challenging training session, because it’s such a special treat. Also, the dog gets to go chill out and work off any built up stress from training with a nice relaxing chew.
3. Bully sticks can be used to reinforce “wait”.
This is probably my favorite way to use a bully stick for training. “Wait” is a critical command for any dog because it can be used to keep a dog safe (e.g., from stepping out in traffic while on a walk, from picking up a forbidden item in their mouth, etc.). The wait command tests a dog’s impulse control, because it essentially means to them “yes, you can have that thing you want, just not immediately.” Once a dog has a basic grasp of the wait command, upping the ante (and the challenge) by using a very fragrant, highly desirable reward like a bully stick. If your dog can resist the urge to go gnaw on his bully stick right away and “wait” until you give him the release command to enjoy it, you know your dog’s “wait” is rock solid.
In sum, while at first glance it might seem that a bully stick is not the kind of reward to be used in dog training, bully sticks actually have some very specific and unique applications as training rewards that will really help take the session to the next level for your dog.
Candice Aaron is the mom of Jack & Ralphie (@jackandralphie). Candice is a board member at Dallas Pets Alive, the primary rescue partner for getting dogs out of Dallas Animal Services and other local kill shelters. Jack & Ralphie were both rescued within hours of euthanasia by Dallas Pets Alive. Candice has worked with expert trainers with both Jack and Ralphie for the past 4 years and they still train every day. Jack who was beaten by humans and was rescued with heartworm and extreme malnourishment has recovered to the point where he has now received both his AKC Canine Good Citizen and AKC Tricks certifications and also passed the public access test to be a service dog.
Keep up with these cuties Jack & Ralphie on their Instagram page, @jackandralphie!