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How to Phase Out Treats when Training your Dog

A common issue I hear from dog owners is "My dog that will only sit for a treat and will not listen to me unless bribed! "  

So how do you train your dog without him becoming reliant on treats? How do you go from bribing your dog to having a dog that will listen enthusiastically without any food being present? Read on for 6 tips on how to avoid this common training problem.

Its important when training your dog to work on phasing out treats. Once a dog knows how to perform a behaviour, we gradually start to phase out food at a reinforcer so that your pup can reliably perform the behaviour on cue, regardless of whether you are offering food or not.  Use the methods listed below to gradually phase out treats from your training.

Tip #1 - Remove the food from your hand

When training new behaviours always keep treats in your pocket or ideally in a treat pouch while you give hand signals and verbal cues. Only take the treat out of your pocket when the dog has performed the command correctly. This ensures that your dog can listen to you even when you don’t have a treat in your hand. 

Tip #2 - Chain Behaviours

Once your dog understands how to do a few different behaviours, ask for more than one behaviour at a time, but only reward with one treat once your dog has performed both behaviours. For example, once your dog knows how to do Sit, Down and Stand, you can combine two behaviours together, then three, then four until you can get a full Puppy Push Up (Sit-Down-Sit-Down-Stand-Down) which is six commands at the end of which your dog only gets one treat. For more advanced dogs you may ask for recall, followed up with the Side Position, followed by a few steps of perfect heeling, before your reward with one treat. Your dog has performed 3 commands, but only gets one reward.  

Tip #3 - Separate Yourself from the Treats

Leave the treats on a kitchen counter, or somewhere else in the garden, move away from the treats and ask your dog for some behaviours. When your dog performs them correctly, praise him (be very enthusiastic!) then ask for a sit stay, go and get a treat, come back to your dog and reward with one treat. 

Tip #4 - Mix it up

Alternate between using treats, praise, toys and play as rewards for correct behaviour. The less predictable you are with the type of reinforcement you give, the stronger the behaviours become. 

Tip #5 - Best Response Gets the Best Reward

Only reward the very best responses with treats.  For example, when training recall, if your dog does a slow recall, give a pat on the head and some gentle verbal praise.  If your dog runs quickly to you on recall, give a delicious food reward and lots of enthusiastic verbal praise and pats.  

Tip #6 - Replace food with life rewards

Nothing in life is free! Use life rewards instead of treats.  Your dog must work at showing you the very best behaviours he knows, to get the things in life he wants. Every time your dog wants something (for example, to go outside, walk through a doorway, jump on the couch, eat his dinner, jump in the car) he must show you a well trained behaviour, such as sit stay, focus, down stay, before he gets want he wants.

Need further help?

If you are struggling with a dog that will only listen to you if you have a treat in your hand, and you'd like help correcting this behaviour contact me and we can set up a session or two to help you phase out food rewards and create the best behaved pup ever without the need to bribe!


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