A ton lot of dog parents who put in efforts to train their dog using Positive reinforcements have a common question, that is, “But how do I train my dog without using Treats?”
Though a lot of dogs are food motivated and gradually develop a habit of doing what their parents want them to do in exchange for treats, there are some very smart dogs who refuse to listen to their parents if they do not observe any food or treats in the hands of their owner.
I recently met Sarah, a dog parent of a cute 2-year-old rottweiler. She asked me this question-
In the Last 2 years, I have trained my dog all the basic commands like sit, stand, recall etc and she was doing just fine. But since last 3 months I have stopped giving any treats to her for her good and desired behaviour.
Now, She has kind of stopped listening to me and obeying my commands for half of the time. I feel this is because of the fact that I stopped giving her Treats for the desired behavior. Am I right?
I really liked this question and thus I wanted to write a blog post on this topic of pet dog disobeying without the use of any treats for motivation.
Why Do I Believe in Positive Reinforcement Training using Treats?
I am Sharon, a Professional Dog Trainer with 3 years of experience in this industry. I have currently working in a reputed dog training centre in Sacramento. This is me with my pet dog, Roxy.
Since the time I started practising professional training, I have been strongly emphasizing on Positive Reinforcements using Treats. Especially with pet dogs, as usually the dogs who are agility trained or for other competitions are trained without using treats later on.
But there have been some of the cases in my life, where even pet dogs stop to listen or obey certain commands when they get an idea that their parent won’t feed them with their favourite tasty treats that they deserve.
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Though these dogs are really smart, these dogs create a problem for their parents.
Why Should You Learn to Train your Dog without Treats
I also agree that food or treats are not the only way to keep your dog motivated. Positive Reinforcement can also be in the form of love and praises. Verbal praise really works great for me. And, there are some type of commands in which treat training can even fail you.
For example, When you are teaching your dog to come to you when called, your dog will most likely come to you when he observes a treat in your hands. But what if there’s an emergency situation and you want your dog to run towards you, but you don’t have a treat in your hands. Now, What?
I also felt that Training your dog using praises or other ways to express love also deepens the relationship bond between the two of you. I felt that when you are trying to Treat train your pet dog, he listens to you and obeys your commands to please you and obtain the food.
But, when you try to train your dog without the food, he listens to you more carefully.
That’s why It’s really important to Focus on How you can train your dog without using Treats.
But First, Learn to Establish yourself as a Pack Leader
Every time I talk about dog training to someone, I emphasize a lot on establishing yourself as a Pack leader. This is like establishing an alpha status in the eyes of your dog. Your dog should know who’s in charge.
This can be a little difficult for new dog parents, as you need to be arrogant and bossy. But ultimately, this would help you grow a much stronger bond with your pet dog.
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Step-by-Step Guide on Training your Dog without using Treats
- If you have a puppy or you are training your dog for the first time, you need to Start with Treats. For a first-timer, It is comparatively easy to train a dog by motivating him using treats.
- If after 3-4 months of Consistent Training, you feel your dog has learned all the basic obedience commands like ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘recall’ and ‘leave’, you should remove the treats from the training gradually.
- When I say gradually, I mean you can lure your dog using a treat to listen and obey you for any command, and after 3-5 days of using treats to lure him, lure your dog using your right hand and if your dog still obeys you, Reward him with treats with your left hand.
- Then, Instruct your dog to ‘sit’ without any treats in his sight. Once he sits, reward him with a chicken from a new hiding spot. The next day, instruct your dog to come to you when you call him and do not reward him with anything.
- The next day again, Give the ‘recall’ command and when your dog obeys your command, give him 4-5 Treats. This makes your dog think that he must listen to you every-time, as there are chances that you might have something special for him, even if he cannot see or smell something.
- I know it’s really not possible to keep treats with you all the time. That’s why you need to switch the rewards. There are different kinds of rewards as well that you can use for training. Verbal affection and Belly rubs are great rewards. You can also reward your dog with his favourite games like puzzle games or tug of war.
What are the Alternatives to Treats for Training Motivation
Instead of using a treat or any other Food to motivate your dog to obey your commands, here are the alternatives which have produced results for me in my professional career-
Playtime with your Dog
Playing with your dog is a huge relationship-building tool. I always recommend dog parents to play as much as you can with your dog. Playing physical games is a great way to get a dog tired, which is awesome for training a dog. You can replace treats with playtime for rewarding purposes.
For example, you can give the ‘recall’ command and if your dog comes to you, reward him with a game of tug of war or frisbee. You can also play puzzle games if he likes for mental stimulation of your dog’s brain.
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Verbal Affection and Praises
You must have observed a lot of dog trainers use to reward a dog with verbal praises like “Good Girl!!” or “Awesome” or “yes yes”. These are the warm words that their dog loves to be called by their parents.
Though, every dog is different, but who doesn’t like to be loved and cared? These warm and affectionate words coupled with Physical love like belly or head rubs, kisses around the neck have really helped me replace treats to motivate my dogs to obey my commands.
Affection in the form of Touch
Affectionate touch can also be a good reward for your dog instead of treats. As a dog parent, you shall be aware of the place where your dog enjoys to get a pet, rubbed and touched. Some dogs enjoy around the belly area whereas some enjoy on their head.
Also, observe keenly what kind of touch is suitable in which situation. Pay attention to your dog’s response to various touches around the body. If he ducks away, he doesn’t feel that touch is rewarding. If your dog engages and loves a kind of touch, he feels that’s rewarding.
You can also use petting, rubbing and scratching as a form of reward as well.
How Do I Teach My Dog with the Basic Obedience Commands Without using Treats
The first things first. How will you teach your dog with basic commands like sit, stay and stand? Here is a method that you can use to accomplish the Training for Sit/Stay Command.
- Spend 20-30 minutes daily on training your dog with basic obedience commands using this method.
- Tie your dog with a leash and tie the other corner of the leash with a door or anything solid.
- Hold your hand in front and palm facing your dog. Give the sit/stay command.
- You need to keep them in this position for 30 minutes. If they break this position (which, most likely they will), make them sit in that position again. This teaches your dog that you are no mood to compromise with the commands.
- During the 30 minutes, you need to keep a close look at your dog and make sure they are sitting/staying in the desired position. You can also hold the leash yourself.
How to Make your dog Lay Down without using Treats
- Give the Sit/Stay command to your dog.
- Bring the collar and leash connector in the front of your dog’s eyes and guide him to lay down using some force.
- Some dogs may not lay down as they may be dominant. Hence this can be difficult at once but after 1-2 days of consistency, your dog will start to submit before you and lay down.
- Make sure he lays down for 30 minutes.
- Keep a close eye on him by staying in the same room.
My Final Words on Dog Training without Treats
I hope you liked this article. One thing I would again point you out is Consistency. Just Like Human Beings take 21 days to adapt to any habit, Dogs usually take 2-3 weeks as well depending upon on their average and training routine etc.
Things may seem to difficult for the first few days as your dog may not listen to you, but if you stick to it, things will fall in place soon enough. If you follow the methods above for 15 days straight, I am Confident you will observe positive results in your dog.
Dog Training without treats is a great way to strengthen the bond between the parent and the dog but if your dog does not respond to this training, It’s perfectly okay to use Treats to train him.