Dog Only Works for Food

    Do you find yourself thinking, “My dog only listens if I have a treat”? I’ll bet your dog won’t come to you without a treat right?

Do you wonder just how you can get him to listen better?

You’ve done a good job at training so far, but at some point you know you need to learn how to train your dog without treats.

Here’s a great example of a dog listening without food treats:

I was at the park watching this dog owner working dog obedience with his dog; he put the dog, Buck,  in a sit stay and walked what seemed to be 50 yards away –  the dog watching every move his owner made. The dog did NOT move!

Finally, the owner turned around and gave Buck a “Down!” command hand signal. He dropped immediately. Then the owner called Buck to come to him.

It was amazing to see this dog bolt out of a down/stay on a fast run to its owner. Halfway there the owner gave another “Down!” command hand signal and Buck dropped in its tracks – perfectly obedient.

I was really impressed.!  In fact, the other folks watching were impressed as well.

The owner did a final call to Buck to finish the exercise. His dog immediately ran to him and sat right in front, tail wagging and a huge smile on his face. For doing that, Buck got to fetch a tennis ball. No Treats! How cool is that!

That, my friend, is the kind of stuff great dogs and great dog relationships and dog obedience training  are made of.

This dog owner got his dog to come to him without treats but instead used lots of patience and lots of good, fun obedience training.

But your question at this point should be:  How do I stop using treats to train my dog?

You’re stuck at:  Why will my dog only listen when I have a food treat?

There may be times you can’t use food treats or simply don’t have any treats with you. So what do you use as a substitute for food treats?

The answer may be easier than you think. Its time to “get crackin'” with a new, fresh approach to dog training.

Food Treats to Life Rewards in Dog Training

The first of the 3 non-food rewards are what we call life rewards. “What’s this?” you ask.

A life reward is any thing your dog enjoys doing in his daily life with you.

This can include:

  • a game of fetch with your pet
  • a dog walk or a jog with you in the park.

That’s his reward!

This is when we can make use of a training principle involving low and high value behaviors.

Now don’t get all upset and roll your eyes! I know it sounds complicated but it’s really not.

In fact, my guess is your parents used it on you as a child when they said to you, “You can’t watch TV (high value behavior.) until you do your homework (low value behavior).” Am I right?

It could also be disguised as some other chore like, “You can’t go to the movies until you clean your room.” If it worked on you, it will work on your dog- trust me.

Require your dog to perform a series of sits and downs then play a good game of fetch. You see, by this time you have already worked your dog on the obedience commands multiple times BUT you have using food treats and now you’ve just changed the reward from food to something he really likes – and possibly even more. AND, now the reward is interactive and that is a big PLUS in your dog’s eyes!

Another benefit of using life rewards in training your dog, is that this very same principle in which your dog figures out, “If I sit and down, then I get to play fetch…” shapes the very foundation on which your entire relationship with your dog is based.

You will see your dog begin to change in front of your eyes as he anticipates with excitement what the next reward will be. Dogs that have been stressed or anxious in a relationship become calm because of this new structure.

Play as a Reward in Dog Training

Do you like to play with your dog and have you used play as a reward in training your dog? If not, you are missing the boat!

Using playtime as a reward – and I’m talking tug toys and other games you can play with your dog – can not only keep your dog’s interest high when it comes to obedience training exercises, it is a fabulous way to build a strong positive relationship with your dog.

Previously we discussed life rewards in dog training, I first began to explore with you the idea of  using non-food treats because that begins to not only wean your dog off of food treats but help you develop a closer relationship – one of respect – with your dog.

Here we begin to expand your options to keep your four-legged companion’s interest in you high with excitement – always wondering “What’s next?” and minimizing behavior problems.

In game playing, you are only limited to your imagination. Think about “hide and seek” or “find it” games which can be played around the house – or even outside in the back yard.

Here’s an example of just one of the games I play with our black lab Sammy.

Each evening when I return from a day of training, Sammy greets me at the front door with a red Kong toy in his mouth, waiting to play his “find it” game. It’s a ritual he has begun to expect and enjoy immensely.

Here’s how it goes:

  • I take the Kong toy from Sammy, take it to the kitchen and place it on the counter.
  • I then send Sammy to his place (dog bed) as I locate his rope tug toy.I shut the door to the family room so Sammy can’t see me and I begin to go room-to-room to hide his rope toy which we affectionately call his “trade.”
  • I return and send Sammy from his bed to find his trade (the rope toy) which gives me time to stuff the Kong in the kitchen. By that time Sammy is back in the kitchen with his “Trade.”
  • I trade him the stuffed Kong for his “Trade” (rope toy.) Of course once he arrives in the kitchen, he has to sit and down to earn his Kongas well.

He dearly loves this game. He getting so good at the game, I’m going to have to sharpen my skills at hiding his “Trade.”

Offering a “Soft Touch and Soft Speak” as a Reward in Dog Training

Take the time to discover how receptive your dog is to soft words and touch or massage instead of offering a food treat.

While food treats are great to teach new behaviors, discovering another appropriate non-food reward as I just mentioned can prove to be a great substitute for food treats.

You may already know if your dog is the “cuddly type” or stand offish.  It’s definitely not for every dog, but if your dog is a praise seeker he could be very receptive to a soft touch massage while at the same time you speak to him softly as you create a calm emotional state.

When you begin to consider transitioning over to massage and warm words, remember that this is following on the coat tails of weaning your dog off of food treats as you put your dog through  their obedience training paces.

Just think, if after every training session, your dog comes to expect warm words with a massage, what a powerful way to not only build a stronger command response but a stronger relationship with your dog!

Another important thing to remember is that you should reserve using this dog training reward for when you can take the time to connect with your dog on this level. In other words don’t try to use this kind of reward just before going out on a walk when he is least receptive to the calm and quiet of the moment. Before walks just give a quick belly rub or a scratch on the chest after a few sits and downs just before you walk out the door.

You’ll know if it is right for your dog. If it is, practice this daily. You will be amazed with the results.

In fact, randomly use all the non- food rewards as you interact with your dog each day.

So, I’ve given you 3 alternatives to how to train your dog besides using food treats. I firmly believe if you put one or all 3 of these choices into training your dog, you won’t be saying “My Dog Won’t Listen to me” anymore.

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Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are with the teacher of your children. And remember, “Opportunity Barks!”  Come on over and let’s have fun on Facebook!

Jim Burwell is a “thanks for making the impossible, possible” professional dog trainer having trained 20,000+ dogs and counting and serving more than 7,000 clients.  Jim’s easy to follow, common sense, and positive methods have made him the “dog trainer of choice” for 30 years.  One of his clients says it best:

There are people who are so good at, and passionate about, what they do, that in their presence, one can’t help thinking that they have found their true calling and are doing exactly what they should be doing on this earth. Jim is one of these rare people. His quiet and understated manner, his effective technique for training dogs (and their families) is something which I feel fortunate to have witnessed and in which to have been an active participant