When Can I Stop Using Treats

phasing out food treats

It’s always interesting to me people have no problem giving their dogs a completely free allowance, but then wonder to themselves how long will I have to keep paying their dog for his work?

Sit, heel, leaving a cool smell in the grass isn’t fun for 90 percent of dogs.

It’s work. 

To dogs food has monetary value.  While we often want to think of our dogs as our “buddy”, how often do you expect your best friend to drop everything he is doing to sit, leave something that is so interesting it’s basically like doggy video games at our demand?

Like it or not when it comes to obedience we have a working relationship with our dogs.   If we work at it we can create something that more like a partnership where we are working towards the same goals and both of us are equally motivated.

Okay, but enough philosophical blah blah…   How do you phase out food when you are training with food?

Let me break it down for you.

When you first start teaching a new behavior you reward every time.

You do until your dog can consistently perform the cue.  Once you have it here you can go from a vending machine to a slot machine.  Think about what happens when you put a dollar in a pop machine?  You expect a can of soda, but it doesn’t come.  You  might add another dollar, you might kick it and you might just leave.  If you do this for three day’s in a row you’ll probably stop going to the pop machine.  Your dog will stop giving the behavior if you improperly quit your reward system.  DON’T BE THE BROKEN POP MECHINE. 

Start to become this slot machine instead. 

Reward 2 repetitions of the behavior and then don’t reward one for a session.  Do this for a full session, then start to make it random.  Reward 5, don’t reward 3, reward 1, don’t reward 5, reward 2 don’t reward 3.  People aren’t good at being random, so try to keep a close eye on your results.

Once your dog is consistently not quitting and trusting that a reward will come if he gambles long enough you can start stretching it out even more! 

When people struggle with this it is often because they group cues together or they don’t consider the distractions that are being presented to the dog.

Remember each induvial behavior has to be trained, distraction proofed and have the rewards faded out on it’s own timeline.   Just because you stop feeding every sit, doesn’t mean your dog is ready to have food phased out while heeling.

How you reward is also very important.

 Does your dog get excited for the leash, going out of a door or having his ball thrown?  Maybe you need to have that replace a food treat.  If you heel I’ll let you chase the squirrel.  Using what is in the world around your dog is a powerful training principal called the premak principal

How you present your reward matters too.  Think about if you pull out a bag of treats and your dog sits.  Has your dog actually sat because of the bag of treats?  Instead of pulling out the treats say sit and then click, then go to the kitchen and pull out the treats and reward your dog.  That way sit produces the treats, instead of treats making sit happen.

Instead of asking “when can I stop paying my dog?” start asking “How can I motive my dog to work?” and “How can I build my dog’s work ethic?” “Does my dog fully understand the cue?” ” Have I taught my dog to do the behavior under distractions?”

When you start thinking this way you are thinking like a trainer.

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