Dog Training Without Treats: A Myth Revealed

“I don’t use treats to train my dog because I won’t always have treats on me”.

We hear it all the time. And we understand why people believe this, but let’s look at the psychology behind dog training to bust this myth.

The saying goes that variety is the spice of life, right? When we aren’t sure what to expect we stay on our toes, alert and eager with anticipation of what’s to come next. The same is true with your dog.

To keep your dog eager to see what you have in store next, it’s critical to grab his or her attention. If your dog is motivated by food, treats can be the key to gaining and keeping his or her attention. And this will hold true whether you have treats on you in the future, or not, because your dog will be more eager to work hard in case you do have treats.

Here’s a real life example you can related to…if your boss stopped giving you a paycheck you would start to lose your interest in your work, right? But on the flip side, if sometimes your boss passed an extra $100 your way for good work, you’d keep working hard, hoping today was one of those bonus days! Treats are like your dog’s paycheck.

Dog Training Without Treats: A Myth RevealedThe key is to start marking, or recognizing, the positive behavior with the name of the command (ie good sit!) and a treat immediately as it’s happening so your dog knows he or she is doing exactly what you wanted. It’s basic classical conditioning…the dog then associates that behavior (and you!) with good things.

As your dog learns the behavior, start treating only every other time, then every fourth time, then every time again. Mix it up! And because you’ll be treating quite a bit, small treats are good to use*. In time, you won’t need treats on you at all times. Your dog will still be eager to see if this is his or her lucky day. Just remember to “recharge” the command from time to time by using treats when you do have them so that the memory of a possible paycheck is fresh.

At PetU we’re all about K9 Higher Education, so here’s your homework! In the coming days, continue to reinforce different behaviors with occasional treats, then train for a while without treats and then introduce one again when your dog least expects it. Do this at home, at the park, on a walk…keep your dog guessing. Watch how his or her attentiveness to you and eagerness to comply improves during this time. It’s incredible to watch this bond grow as owner and dog have fun working together!

*while training with treats please consider the overall amount of food your dog is getting throughout the day to maintain a balanced diet. Speak to your vet if you have any specific questions.

PetU provides dog training, doggy day care, boarding, grooming and nutrition – a complete package for all your dog’s needs. At PetU, dog training is a way of life – it’s at the heart of everything we do.