When to stop rewarding your dog.
This might sound like a strange subject, but there are still a lot of people who don’t like using treats or food rewards to train their dogs because they are under the impression that they will always have to have treats to hand, in order to ‘bribe’ their dog – forever!
But this certainly isn’t the case and reward based training, (usually using food as a motivator) works extremely well with the majority of dogs. It is the quickest and by far the easiest and most enjoyable way to train your dog.
The problem many owners find when using food to teach their dog new things is just at what point to stop rewarding. Many owners believe that the dog will become so dependent on receiving treats that he will not comply with instructions, unless tit bits are readily and always available. The longer the owner gives food rewards, this does often become a common scenario and many dogs become ‘canny’ enough not to behave unless the owner is holding out a treat. In the same way, many owners have the tendency to use too many treats in the first place, which devalues the food as a motivator.
The aim of the game is to gradually phase out food rewards as soon as the puppy, (or adult dog) responds reliably to a certain command. It is also important to bear in mind that you need to build other rewards into the dog’s life as he learns – for instance a game with a ball, a stroke behind the ears or a simple, ‘good boy’.
By gradually phasing out food rewards your dog will begin to learn that he doesn’t always get a treat – the next stage is to keep him guessing a little bit about that!
When you begin to teach a new puppy how to ‘sit’, for instance, you will begin with a treat in your hand – luring the dog’s nose upwards and backwards until he naturally sits; whereupon he gets his reward. Quite quickly, you will be able to have treats in a container or in a pocket and use your hand only, (without a treat) as a signal for him to sit. Then take a treat from the container or your pocket and reward.
Owners also need to have the confidence to work without food in their hands. Once your dog is responding well several times with treats, try it without – you will be pleasantly surprised!
Another good tip is to see how many repetitions of a ‘sit’ your dog is prepared to do before he gives up. This will give you an indication of how much you can ask of him, before you need to re-motivate him with treats.
As you phase out food rewards, also bear in mind that you need to increase the time you expect him to perform a ‘sit’ or a ‘down’ before he receives a treat.
Food is an excellent tool for teaching new things to dogs. However, bear in mind that it isn’t always as effective among strong distractions, such as other dogs playing – so, to continue the effectiveness of food rewards, build up distractions gradually.
There are lots of other Holidays4Dogs articles on how to get started training your dog, so if you get stuck, have a look through for some help and tips.