Dog treats are often an essential part of the dog training process. However, at some point you may want to wean your dog off of them. While it is never necessary to stop providing treats for your dog during training altogether, but there may be times when you need to reduce their frequency due to health concerns, behavior issues, or simply because you’re running out of treats!
There are a few different ways that you can go about weaning your dog off of treats:
Gradually reduce the number of treats
One method is to gradually reduce the number of treats given during each training session. For example, if you typically give your dog four treats during a ten-minute training session, you would reduce this to three treats during the same session. Once your dog is comfortable with this reduced number of treats, you would then reduce it to two, and so on.
The key here is to go slowly – don’t try to reduce the number of treats too quickly or your dog may become frustrated and lose interest in training altogether.
Switch to a different type of treat
Another option is to switch to a different type of treat altogether – preferably one that is a lower-reward treat. For example, if you typically use pieces of chicken as treats, you could switch to using peas, steamed carrot pieces, or another type of veggie. Your dog may be willing to eat just about anything during training, but they will not see the treats you are providing as being as valuable as the ones they are used to, which will help to reduce their dependence on treats overall.
Use praise and petting instead of treats
Try using verbal praise and longer spans of attention to reward desired behaviors. When your dog does something you have asked of them – make it enthusiastic and genuine so they know that they are doing a good job! In addition, provide attention in the form of petting or scratches behind the ears. These forms of positive reinforcement will let your dog know they are behaving in a way that pleases you – and they will be just as happy (if not more so) than if you had given them a treat.
This is often the most difficult method for dog owners to stick with, as it may require more consistency. However, it can be very effective in the long run. Your dog looks to you as their guide, and if you are happy with their behavior, they will be too. This form of reward also helps build a stronger bond between you and your dog.
Stop giving treats during certain behaviors
You can also start weaning your dog off of treats by no longer providing them for certain behaviors. For example, if you typically give your dog a treat every time they sit, you could instead only provide a treat every other time, or randomly. This will help your dog to understand that they will not always get a treat for sitting, and therefore they should not expect one.
It is important to note that you should never withhold a treat as punishment – this will only serve to confuse your dog and make them less likely to respond positively to training overall.
Use a high-reward dog toy
If your dog is strongly motivated by toys, you may be able to wean them off of treats altogether by using a high-reward toy instead. This could be a tug toy, squeaky toy, or anything else that your dog loves to play with. Whenever your dog performs a desired behavior, give them the toy as a reward instead of a treat.
This method may take some trial and error to find the right toy – one that is high-value enough to serve as an effective reward, but not so valuable that your dog becomes possessive of it and unwilling to share.
Increase the difficulty
Another way to wean your dog off of treats is to slowly increase the difficulty of the behaviors you are asking for. For example, if you typically ask your dog to sit before giving them a treat, you could instead ask them to lie down. Once they are consistently performing this behavior, you can then ask them to sit again.
This will help your dog to understand that they do not always need a treat in order to perform a behavior – they will do it because you have asked them to.
Be patient and consistent
Whenever you are trying to change your dog’s behavior, it is important to be patient and consistent. This is especially true when you are trying to wean them off of treats, as it may take some time for them to adjust.
If you are consistent in your request and rewards, your dog will eventually catch on and respond accordingly. Do not get frustrated if they do not immediately understand – just keep working with them and be patient!