How long do I have to use treats for training? I’ve been using treats since I started training my dog, but now I’m worried about my dog gaining weight.
– James, via e-mail

My Answer:

I have good news for you. You do not need to train with treats forever. here’s my take on using treats in dog training.

Many dog trainers say that using food treats (also known as inducement dog training) is not good because you always have to carry around food treats to get your dog to perform.  But what they don’t tell you is what they don’t know!

The truth is, treat dog training is a process of teaching with food at first, then weaning the dog off food treats so that he is performing for you without the treats!

The the “weaning off” part of treat training is what many owners overlook and they get stuck with a dog that will only work for food. Don’t let this happen to you. Start your dog on variable treating now. Here’s how.

Once your dog is successfully performing a sit, start treating only every other time, then every third time and begin to get 4 and 5 sits in a row and only treat after the second, third, fourth of fifth time – then off food treats completely.  This is called variable treating.

The key is to not have food treats in your hand.  Dogs burn an image or picture in their mind that the activity of “sits” or “downs” is something they do with you when you have a food treat in your hand.  Believe me, dogs can also learn the same concept with you without a food treat in your hand. Help them with this by leaving the treats in your treat bag, zip lock bag or on the counter until you are ready to treat.

Watch this video of me practicing “go to your place” with a dog. Notice that I am using variable treating and the dog still performs.

In summary:

  1. Reward with treats each time you shape a new behavior.
  2. Once you can anticipate the behavior, introduce a verbal command and hand signal and
  3. Begin variable treating with no food treats in your hand.

Keep up and the good work and good luck! Remember, “Opportunity Barks!”

(C) Jim Burwell 2011