Dog training without treats- a method highly recommended by expert dog trainers!
Everyone starts with treats as a form of motivation to teach their dog to behave in a certain way. But as your dog grows older, treats might just not work!
When I started training my German shepherd Puppy, I bribed them with treats to learn to sit, potty, come and other stuff on command.
But when he saw rabbits, squirrels or other moving objects outside, it was hard to control her with treats alone.
In this post, I’m going to dive into the details of alternative ways to treat training.
- 1 Why should you depend less on treat training?
- 2 Toys and fun as an alternative to treatment.
- 3 Reward-based training using the Premack principle.
- 4 Using voice tone and body language as a reward.
- 5 Touch your dog to make him feel good.
- 6 Create space in stressful situations.
- 7 Dog training using leash gesture.
- 8 Final thoughts…
Why should you depend less on treat training?
When dog trainers and pet bloggers talk about taking an alpha role in your dog-owner relationship, you can’t become one just by using treat training.
Yes, from my experience, I can say that treats make it easy to train your dog. She might develop a nag for pleasing you more. But she does it all for that tasty treat!
As I read more books and theories on dog training, I learned that affection, rewards, and playing can make your relationship with your dog more meaningful and strong.
She will look at you for comfort and protection rather than thinking about you as a treat machine!
In certain situations when there is a lot of distraction, your dog will listen to you because of that bond. Treats will fail in those situations.
Toys and fun as an alternative to treatment.
Training dogs with toys are becoming more and more common these days! And for a good number of reasons:
- Toys don’t end up in your dog’s stomach. So you have more to give with a single toy!
- It creates an everlasting way of motivation. You can change the game or the toy to keep your dog interested.
- The focus truly remains on learning, unlike treats where the focus remains on the food.
- Rewarding your dog from a distance.
- Put less stress on your dog’s dental care routine!
Apart from toys, you can also play with your dog in many ways to keep him interested. So if you command him to do a certain thing, he will know at the end of the act there is lots of fun coming.
Using treats will force you to cut on your dog’s daily food intake. And if you can’t keep a balance, the chances of your dog becoming overweight is high.
So toys and playing is the way to go.
Reward-based training using the Premack principle.
Reward-Based training can be associated with the Premack principle of dog training.
The Premack principle was proposed by psychologist David Premack. It is used to make people do a less interested act by allowing them to do an activity that they are highly interested in doing.
When I first read about it, I thought this was genius. And it really works on dogs like magic.
Let me show you a scenario.
Your dog is running and playing outside. But it’s time for his bath. And you know he hates it!
If you bring him in and let him play again after his bath, your dog will take it as a reward for doing what he hates. So after a few repetitions, he will feel interested in taking a bath because he knows what’s coming next.
And… in doing so you have successfully applied the Premack principle on your dog.
Using voice tone and body language as a reward.
The verbal reward is one of the forms of training that people overlook. As I did my research, I found that verbal reward works but only if you add petting with it which we will cover in the next section.
Yes, your tone of voice and the pitch can really act as a reward to your dog. Saying “good dog,” “what a good doggie” after your dog performs a command can motivate him to follow commands.
You can also use treats along with praising. So gradually he can associate praising with the treat. And you can slowly eliminate treats.
You can find more about this in Blanche Saunders’s book ‘Train You to Train Your Dog.”
But many dog trainers failed to acknowledge the recent scientific findings that verbal praising is alone not enough to act as a reward for good behavior in dogs.
Here’s what I found…
Touch your dog to make him feel good.
Petting your dog like touching or rubbing him can be an excellent way to train your dog without treats.
Recent research by Erica Feuerbacher on vocal praising vs. petting on dogs found that vocal praising is not enough to replace treats.
In a few rounds of experiments, it was found that dogs who were only praised without petting responded almost like someone who did nothing to them. But when petting and praising were applied simultaneously, the dogs responded pretty well. To support this experiment, I dug deeper and found another research done by Thomas Colley in 1967. The results were similar. This time they experimented with dogs while training.
They used verbal praising and petting in circulations. They found that petting along with vocal praising decreased the amount of time to respond to a command from 15 seconds to 5 seconds.
You also need to know what type of petting or touching your dogs like during a specific situation. So if you don’t want to use treats in your dog’s training, you should definitely learn more about petting and verbal praising.
Create space in stressful situations.
Creating space simply means you need to remove your dog from stressful situations. This is a leadership role that acts as a reward for your dog.
So if you are in a situation where your dog is triggered by seeing a strange man, just increase the distance from that man. He will take this positively, and your relationship with your canine will become stronger.
To know more read this post from Whole Dog Journal.
Dog training using leash gesture.
The leash gesture method is another great way to train your dog without treats.
I was totally unaware of this technique until I started writing this post for you! This process could have saved me hundreds of dollars if not thousands in buying treats (just kidding though).
You need a collar and a leash for this. You can use a pinch collar or a training collar depending on your preference.
The upside of using leash gesture-
- Your dog does nothing without your permission or guidance.
- You’re establishing yourself as a leader of the pack.
- It helps abolish dependence on treats.
- You have to stay with your dog for everything they do during the training period
- Tedious and time-consuming
Here are a few commands to teach your dog using this method.
Start with a standard length leash. Get him in the stay position and then move away from him until you get to the end of the leash.
Now say come in a very happy and gentle voice. Pull the leash gently to teach him to come to you!
When he comes to you, give him rewards in the form of positive feedback and petting. Positive feedbacks are like saying ‘good come,’ ‘good doggy boy’ in a very affectionate and happy way.
Gradually move from short leashes to long leashes.
Remember you need to make it a positive experience for your dog every time he follows this command.
Sit, stay and lie down.
For the sit command, use the command and tug the leash towards your dog’s back. Now you can use the stay command by using a hand gesture.
Use the sit command only once. You want your dog to sit on a single command. If he gets up, just use the leash to put him in the right position and tell him to stay as many times as you want.
You should be looking at about 30 minutes for him to stay in that position.
For the lie-down command, tell him to lie down and gently pull the collar in front of your dog in his sitting position. Stay consistent and do this for 30 minutes!
You can give rewards to your dogs which we have mentioned earlier in this post!
When you see your dog doing or about to do something that you don’t like, pull him away using the leash and use the ‘leave it’ command.
You can use the Premack principle and give him a reward like running outside or anything that he loves doing if he listens to you!
Some dogs might just not respond to training without treats. So don’t push. Treats also work great! You can use homemade dog cakes as treats if your dog loves them.
I talked with many dog owners and trainers and one thing they say that’s common despite the differences in their training methods. It’s to be consistent!
Build a positive relationship with your dog and learn to train yourself first to train your dog.