Training Dogs Without Treats
Take Training Your Dog To The Next Level!
Training dogs without treats can be a challenge as some dogs may not respond well to food or treats during training sessions. Dog owners should not worry as there are other training tools you can use besides treats to teach your dog new commands or behaviors.
One of the main reasons why dog owners’ use treats is that it provides positive reinforcement immediately to the dog’s actions. There are some dog breeds that have difficulty in focusing on treats when they are trying to learn a new behavior or command.
If you have one of these dogs or not, our objective is to share some ways you can train any dog without having to use food treats all the time for luring your dog to do the right behavior.
Why Treats Can Be Bad
Most dogs love their owners and like to please them. So, if you don’t dispense food it should not detract from their love for you. You should not use food to make your dog love you. It can hurt the relationship from reaching a more meaningful level.
You can use some alternative ways to train your dog like play, real-life rewards, affection, and positive verbal praise to name a few.
While treats can be one of the easiest ways to train your dog, however, they might not work for every dog.
One of the biggest concerns owners have is to give their dog treats that exceeds 10% of their daily caloric intake for the day. This will result is your dog gaining weight and make him obese. This is what you want to avoid. Treats are good and offer results that dogs like, just don’t overdo it.
Ways To Train Without Using Treats
Now, let’s look at some methods dog owners can use to train their dogs without using any treats.
We need to make it clear, when you are training your dog in a new behavior, you will have great success using food treats to start. Over time, you can wean your dog off food treats.
Non treat training methods are:
- Play with your dog.
- Using real-life rewards.
- Giving attention.
- Dog touching.
- Offer warm words of praise.
- Pet or touch him where he likes it.
- Create some space.
Play With Your Dog
This is one of the most fun ways to train your dog without using treats. Dogs like to play and playing with his owner makes him even more excited.
There is great value in using toys and creating games you both can play. Using toys or games is a great way to help build your relationship with your dog and bonding.
Tug of war is a great game to play as well as retrieving the Frisbee or tennis ball. This is also a great exercise for them too.
Using Real-Life Rewards
As you get to know your dog, you will notice which things he enjoys in his daily life. Some of these can be going for a walk, running in the backyard, splashing in the sprinkler, or going in the pool. Real-life rewards are those that do not require food to reward your dog. You can find options like non-food items and activities you dog finds enjoyable and rewarding.
Here are some non-food real-life rewards:
- Dog Touching
- Movement, Access, and Freedom to Explore
- Play and Toys
Try to incorporate some of these rewards into your daily training sessions.
This should be an easy one for most dog owners to give. Giving your dog attention is a great way to reinforce good behavior. Dogs just like to be with you in anything you are doing. Simple attention is giving your dog eye contact, talking to them, and giving them verbal praise.
For example, dogs jump to get attention (usually they are excited) and unfortunately for us, this works. Instead of shouting “stop it”, “no”, or “off,” and touch them to get them off to get them to stop. Your dog just won, because he got your attention. If he jumps just remove the attention. Just turn and walk out the door. Once they stop jumping, that is when you can return your attention. When they have all four paws on the floor you give him your attention. You might have to reward your dog with his favorite toy. In some cases, you may have to reward him with a treat.
If your dog want to jump, before they do, give them a command to “sit” or “down.” Have his favorite toy ready to help them to focus on not jumping.
Dog Touching or Scratching
Some dogs like to be touched while others may find it a little disturbing. Depending upon your dog, they have a favorite spot for which they would like you to touch or scratch them. Some like belly rubs or scratches or under the collar. You may have to try different spots to find the area your dog likes.
Don’t hug your pet unless they like it.
Some signs of discomfort your dog may exhibit are: freezing, wide eyes, yawning, lip licking, or ducking their head.
Once you find out the touch spot you can use it for future non-food rewards.
Movement, Access, Freedom To Explore
This is another easy non-food reward you can use. Here is how to set this up: use the real-life reward of getting to go through a door. When the dog knows they are going for a walk, a treat is nice, but what they really want is to get outside!
Before you allow your dog to go through the door, they have to wait at the doorway and not dash to it. You can say “stay” that he should hold until you release him.
Another example, dogs like to sniffle as they go out on walks, but you need for your dog to perform certain behavior before you let them go exploring.
What you are doing her is using your dog’s motivation in each moment to your advantage and make it their reward.
If your dog pulls on his leash, there are some reasons why he does it. He may smell something (like a fire hydrant or bush). Don’t give him access to this object if he is pulling you. The reward will be he can sniff when he does not pull you to the object.
Tip: If your dog starts pulling on his leash towards something, stop walking and use the “name recognition cue”, or another very easy cue like touch. Once they look at your, say “yes!” and then run with him to the object they wanted to sniff (be sure it is safe and appropriate).
Offer Warm Words of Praise
This is probably one of the easiest things dog owners can do is giving verbal praise to their dog for doing something right.
Praise words like “Good Dog”, “Good Boy/Girl”, or “Good their name” is the most common types of verbal rewards.
There are just some dog breeds that find verbal praise rewarding. While others do not. However, don’t give up, even these dogs can become praise seekers when pairing the praise with other great things.
For example, if you teach your dog to “sit” with a click, followed by a treat or tug, you can add in “Good Dog!” as you deliver the treat or play the game of tug. Soon, your dog will learn to associate that happy praise with the treat or tug, and “Good Dog!” will become its own reward.
Create Some Space
This may sound silly but, you can use space as a reward by increasing the distance or by removing social pressure. If you do this in the right situation, creating some space can be a powerful reinforcement.
For example, you can reward your dog for an appropriate behavior (looking away) in the face of an anxiety producing trigger (like a scary person) when you increase the distance by moving the dog away from the trigger. This is known as behavioral adjustment training or “BAT”.
In your regular day-to-day interactions with your dog, you can use space in smaller subtler ways by removing social pressure. If you are teaching your dog to stay out of the kitchen by using gently body blocks, you can reward your dog’s acceptance of the kitchen door boundary by simply backing up a little bit, or removing the social pressure of the body block.
How To Phase Out Treats In Training
When training your dog it is important that your dog will perform the task without having to feed them a treat every time. This is known as real-life rewards. As you get to know your dog better, you can wean him off treat rewards and lean on real-life rewards.
We will agree that treats are useful when first introducing a new behavior to your dog. This is an integral part of positive reinforcement training. So, treats are a high value to your dog.
When your dog does the behavior or command correctly, they should get rewarded for it. You can reward with a treat, life rewards, and verbal praise or a combination of them.
Dog owners must be aware that when your dog does not perform the behavior or command correctly they should not yell or hit their dog. This is known as punishment based or balanced training. This will get you nowhere. Always use positive reinforcement when training your dog.
The problem with food rewards is it can lead to obesity. The reason is rewarding them with treats that exceeds more than 10% of their daily caloric intake for the day.
You can phase out the treats as your dog masters a behavior and you can lean on using more real-life rewards.
Incorporate Real-Life Training Rewards
I am quite sure that your dog notices you when you go to the treat jar. He is expecting something good. Tasty food treats are excellent motivators for training dog’s even puppies. However, there are times when giving them a treat is not what they really want. These are known as real-life rewards.
Real-life rewards are non-food items or activities that your dog finds enjoyable and rewarding. This can change depending on what’s going on at the moment.
We shared some of those rewards above.
We will know provide some examples on how to incorporate real-life rewards to your dog.
Example 1: When it is time for your dog to go outside to explore, you can ask for a “sit” and the real-life reward is opening the door for them.
Example 2: If your dog likes to seek you out for attention, you can reward when he “keeps all four paws on the floor without jumping,” with attention, praise, and petting.
Example 3: When you go out for walks, you can reward your dog for keeping a loose leash by allowing him to go sniff the fire hydrant or bush they are interested in.
Example 4: When you call your dog and they come, grab a toy and play a quick game of tug when they get to you.
As you do any of the above examples, you can easily wean your dog off food treats. Now you can start thinking about what the dog wants in a particular moment and use the appropriate life reward to encourage good behavior.
Incorporate Continuous Reinforcement
As you begin to teach a new behavior, incorporate continuous reinforcement, which means for every correct response is rewarded, usually with a food treat.
If you are clicker training your dog, you begin by clicking for every correct response, and a click is always followed with a food treat. An example, every time your dog sits = a click and treat. As your dog becomes fluent in each behavior, the clicker is faded out, and allows you to begin fading out food treats too.
The goal of dog owners is to stop using food treats as quickly as it’s feasible. However, don’t move on this process too quickly. Creating a solid foundation for a skill takes longer than most dog owners assume. This will be true if your dog has not practiced it in a variety of environments and around different distractions.
Try to keep a continuous reinforcement schedule which is important if you are working on a skill that has previous negative associations for your dog. For example, you want to build a strong association for your puppy in a behavior like sitting, is highly rewarding.
HOWEVER – If you are rewarding for every “sit” for an extended period of time after your dog already has a solid cue response, your dog begins to expect a food treat every time. If they are not rewarded, they will give up on that behavior since it no longer pays. Dr. Ian Dunbar uses the following example of why this happens:
“The dog may begin to work for you if he feels like it and if you have food, but the first time you don’t come up with a food reward, he’ll go on strike. Basically, think food vending machine. You only use it when you want to (when you’re hungry) and if it fails to deliver food on a just a single occasion, you get mad at the machine and then never use it again.”
Dr. Dunbar further states: “one should never use a continuous schedule of reinforcement when using food treats, so make sure you are incorporating real-life rewards, as mentioned above.”
You can use continuous reinforcement with food during short ten-minute training sessions with your dog or puppy. Remember, continuous reinforcement is appropriate for practicing training in new and distracting environments, or with dogs who are “re-learning” a cue that they may be struggling with.
What Is Differential Reinforcement?
You may be asking just what differential reinforcement is. A quick answer is it’s a schedule that your dog is graded on the quality of their response and given a corresponding reward to reflect it.
- You call your puppy or dog however, they take their sweet time and stop to sniff along the way. When they get to you, you only reward them with some praise and petting. Let’s call this level 3 or “C” grade rewards.
- A mediocre recall gets them a piece of their regular dog food. Let’s call this level 2 or a “B” grade reward.
- Now, if they should run full-speed to you, paws blurred and ears flapping, you reward with a jackpot of chicken (multiple small pieces given in succession). This is level 1 or grade “A” rewards.
This means that the reinforcement you give reflects the quality of your dog’s performance.
You can advance to this schedule with your dog once they have learned the verbal cue for a behavior and have some practice around distractions.
Variable Intermittent Schedule of Reinforcement
Congratulations, this type of reinforcement is what you are aiming for in using food treats when training your dog. Basically, this schedule means food treats are randomly given for the high-quality performance of a cue behavior. Your dog will not know when they will get a food treat for a “sit”, so they will keep offering one in hopes of receiving a reward. What this does is to build motivation.
Let’s pretend to read your dog’s mind, “Well, I didn’t get a treat for this Sit, but let’s try again, and maybe this time. No? Okay, how about this time? There’s the cheese! Let’s do that again!”
Eventually your dog will not rely on a food treat in order to continue offering high-quality and consistent response to your cues. This means you will not have to carry food treats with you. However, if your dog does what you ask, there is no harm in rewarding him with a food treat.
Now, combine this with real-life reward and you will have a win-win situation for the both of you.
Phasing Out Food Rewards
Now you want to fade out using food treats in dog training, it is time to set yourself and your dog for Win-Win situations. What you need to do is to correctly time the process for doing so. This requires time to build a strong foundation for your training cues before expecting your dog to perform without a food treat.
Now that you know how to fade out the use of treats in dog training, it’s important to set yourself and your dog up for success by correctly timing the process for doing so. You need to build a strong foundation for your training cues before expecting your dog to be able to perform without a food treat.
Below are some situations:
- Your dog should have a consistent response to the cue in different environments: your home, group class, outside in the yard, walking on a loose leash, and other places around the neighborhood.
- Your dog should also have reliable responses to the cue around a variety of distractions: other dogs, groups of people, traffic noise, etc.
- Finally, your dog should show positive body language responses to hearing the cue: excitement to respond shown with a relaxed face and ears, engagement with you with eye contact or physical proximity, etc.
As the dog owner, you are going to practice the behavior in a variety of different contexts to solidify your dog’s response before rewarding with positive reinforcement. You will need to develop different schedules of reinforcement based on where you are practicing the behavior. A food treat will not be rewarded for every repetition when you are at home and the dog is not distracted. However, you will need a higher rate of reinforcement if you are beginning to practice that same behavior in a group training class.
The bottom line here is for both you and your pet to have fun and be rewarding for the both of you. Remember, there is nothing wrong by rewarding your dog for a job well done. Just incorporate real-line reinforcement by rewarding your dog with things they like, such as attention, verbal praise, petting, toy, toy play, and freedom to sniff or explore. Now add a food treat randomly and you will find your dog will love to work for you.
As a dog owner you may be thinking what was shared is too difficult to do. I will admit that what we shared can be overwhelming at first. But, it is not hard to do. We highly recommend that you begin at a slow pace both for you and your dog. Set aside the training sessions at the same time so a pattern can be established for both of you.
When you begin to train your dog on a new behavior or command, remember, you must use food treats as a positive reinforcement. As your dog masters the behavior you can start to wean him off the food treats and use real-life rewards.
The main objective of this article is to help new dog owners to keep their dogs under control and teaching them new behaviors using positive reinforcement verses punishment.
Dogs are smart and love their owners. Never forget that. Your dog wants to please you every day. As you both get to know each other the both of you will bond together in a positive and rewarding way.
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If you want to read more on how to use treats in dog training click on the following link: training dogs with treats where we share how to use treats when you are training your dog new behaviors or commands.
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