Fading out treats is not as challenging as it seems to be for dogs’ parents or owners. It is very simple when you are adopting proper techniques. Before proceeding to phase out treats when dog training, one should know how treats help in dog training.
Treats are used as a gesture of reward when a dog exhibits the behavior of obeying your instructions. Different forms of rewards are commonly used, like food, toys, praise, and games. Reward-based training requires consistency and patience, a feeling of overwhelming may be encountered when you are going to train your first dog.
Since rewarding activity eventually prompts repetition of that particular behavior, positive reinforcement is frequently utilized while training dogs gently.
Why Treats are Important in Dog Training?
Treats aid in the dog training process, the best way to train is; to first start with frequent treats but gradually decrease with time as training progresses. Humans want to be paid and rewarded for their work in the form of bonuses.
Studies shows the positive impact of treats and in dog training, including reward-based techniques to reinforce desired behaviors.
Dogs also love to be rewarded for their actions, adopted behavior, and acts when they follow your instructions. Their rewards include different types of treats and praise.
Treats Vs Food Lure
Treats are rewarded to your dog when they become successful in performing a certain action or behavior. Treats can be used repeatedly in a short period; as a reward of choice, resulting in the frequency of an action.
While food lure is something that happens when you hold food in your hand in front of a dog and allow them to sniff, they will move in position of your hand then you can command them to sit in your guided position. Food lures help to elicit a desired behavior in dogs whereas treats are rewards for the action they perform. Both food lures and treats are commonly used during dog training.
Avoid Food Bribe
Food used as a lure serves as magnets to get your dog to follow your instructions promptly. Excessive use of food during dog training should be avoided as dogs may become unresponsive subsequently.
When you reward them on numerous occasions and give them food again and again dogs take it normally as they grow. When dog parents misuse food, that food lure turns into a bribe. Food bribe is not a good thing for dog lovers, they should always avoid it during training their dog.
Consequences of Food Lure
- When a dog’s favorite treat (i.e. meatballs) is used as a food lure, it may become distressing if used in case the dog is having some joint issues.
- Food lure may initiate a sense of hate when someone who is a beginner in dog training, and misuses their favorite treat to respond them to an action; which they do not want to do.
- When you are not very careful, food lure may become a bribe and it will not further influence your dog’s behavior.
Types of Treats Used in Dog Training
The type of treat should be dependent on the dog’s taste, and what they like more. Some dogs like crunchy food while others prefer soft food. Food can be in the form of raw, cooked, or frozen form. Soft form is mostly preferred because it is easy to chew.
Never use too many treats, which can lead to excessive weight gain. Dogs gain weight very quickly so keep a keen eye on your dog’s diet plan. Treats should not be more than 10% of their daily diet. Excessive weight gain can be problematic in your dogs. You should avoid store-based treats and treats that are high in sugar.
Related: How many treats a day for puppy training.
Vital Role of Treats in Shaping Dog Behaviour
Treats act as a primary reinforcer when you are training your dog for new behavior. Generally, the learning process depends on two things that are reinforcement or punishment. Deliver positive reinforcer immediately after your dog performs behavior, to show the connection of reinforcer with performed behavior. Punishment is not recommended when you are dealing with pet dogs.
A 2013 study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior found that positive reinforcement-based training was more effective than punishment-based techniques
The Need for Phase Out
When your dog starts giving responses to your cues immediately; ignoring the place, environment, and time, then take them to the park, backyard, coffee shop, or for a walk to test their response.
Your dog should respond to your cues despite various distractions like traffic, other dogs, other people’s noises, etc. When your dog becomes responsive up to 90% you should start reducing the number of offered treats by 25%. avoid a quick way of fading out; the dog may become unresponsive. When they are responsive enough at a 25% decrease they decrease by 25% more and so on.
Avoid complete phase-out
The phase-out procedure involves some strategies that include,
- Continuous Reinforcement: In the start when your dog responds to your cue, reward them with a treat every time, as a result, they will develop that behavior permanently.
- Variable Reinforcement: When you are heading toward the phase-out, you should not go with a complete phase-out. To keep them motivated give rewards often, and slowly shift them to slot machines. They should know that every response will not result in a reward but they can hope to get the reward. Teach them that they can get what they want by performing a behavior they want.
- Increase Expectations: Increasing expectations also helps in the phase-out process. There are two ways;
1) Ask your dog to perform multiple tasks for one reward.
2) Rewards for only best behaviors, not reward every time.
6 Steps to Phase Out Treats In Dog Training
Phasing out treats could seem to be difficult, but it can be accomplished gradually with patience and consistency. You can only phase out treats when you think your dog has a concept of basic commands like sit, come and stay, etc.
There are following steps involved in phasing out treats effectively.
See: How to train a dog that is not food motivated.
1) Use of Alternative Rewards
Love and praise could be an alternative to treats, as dogs love to be appreciated for obeying. When you give a gentle tap on the head, your dog will love to obey you. Verbal praise is as important as treats in dog training.
2) Introduce Play as a Reward
Dogs’ favorite plays may motivate them to perform a specific behavior. You should find out whether your dogs love to play tug of war or want to go for a walk. Playtime can be used as a reward by replacing treats.
3) Adopting Clicker Training
Dogs follow clickers when followed up with a reward; which could be praise or a treat. This will help your dog to associate click with certain actions. When they become familiar with clicker they become responsive when you click.
4) Decreasing Treats Number
Decreasing the number of treats gradually is the best way of phasing out. You started rewarding only for a few specific behaviors or actions. It can be challenging to some extent but you have to be patient and consistent.
5) Owners Positive Attitude
It is very important to maintain a positive attitude throughout dog training and as phaseout process. Dogs may be affected by your emotions, they can sense the change in your attitude. Dogs love to be encouraged for their actions. Every dog is different; you need to be flexible according to your dog’s nature. In this way, a strong bond is
developed between the dog and the owner. As a result, they become obedient without relying on treats.
6) Consult with a Professional
You may wonder when to seek professional guidance. It becomes necessary when your dog is facing some problems while phasing out treats. Take advice from dog trainers about techniques for addressing phasing out issues. Never become reluctant to contact a professional, they will better help you out in this situation.
Scenarios of Phasing Out
- Treat dependent dogs only when you have a treat in your hand, otherwise, they don’t follow the cue to sit down. Still, you can phase out the treat lure, by showing the treat in a pocket or hand. It will motivate them to follow the cue, when they sit down you can praise them and reward them with treats together. Ultimately, they will begin to less rely on treats.
- Combining treats with play or toys is another approach to phasing out treats in a more enjoyable way. Treats together with play or toys can also enhance the learning ability of dogs, making faster learning.
- Verbal praise along with treats has drastic effects on dog training. In this way, the owner develops a strong bond with the dogs by praising them for every deed. They will gradually start performing the cues thinking that the reward is coming. Verbal praise works even when the reward is delayed.
- Adopt empty hand practice to decrease the lure for food. If your dog finds difficulty in adopting this practice; try repeatedly holding food in your palm. Repeating treats with an empty hand will work for them in this scenario. One time show them food in hand then cheat them for a treat using an empty hand.
Why Your Dog Won’t Perform Without Treats?
If your dog only listens to you if you offer treats, it is because they are habitual of treats during training. You might find out some other exercises that your dog loves. The reason your dog is not listening to you without treats is they might not like the training task. so, they are just doing it for the sake of treats only.
Another possible reason is they might already be full that’s why they are avoiding you. and, whenever they are hungry they will listen to you just to get the treats done.
Teaching your dog to perform without treats is a bit like encouraging a friend to do something without offering a reward every time.
You can start by gradually reducing how often you give treats. Instead, mix it up and sometimes use treats and other times show your appreciation with words, pets, and affection.
It’s important to be patient and consistent with your furry friend, as it might take them some time to adjust to this new way of doing things. And if you’re finding it really challenging, don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional dog trainer—they’re like the experts who can offer valuable advice to make the process smoother for both you and your dog
Food treats are an incentive for dogs to learn rapidly. It has been noticed that, in the same way dogs love to be rewarded with treats or other forms of praise, we want to be paid for the work we achieve. Food lures, when utilized consistently, cause dogs to learn new behaviors easily. Do not Wait too long to phase out your dog once they have completed their training.
Start reducing the lure once your dog begins to respond properly when subjected to certain commands. Strong owner-dog bonds have a positive effect on learning behavior. Start building a strong bond with your dog before expecting them to obey you. When you give them food items, games, and praise for excellent acts, they become more bonded.
In the end, this will support the training and phase-out phases. Because your dog believes in you, they develop affection for you with time. You should never be shy about paying off to dogs. They are loyal creatures in this world, they can easily become best companions when treated with love.
Dr. Attia Awais -Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
(Islamia University Bahawalpur)
M.Phil Microbiology (University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences Lahore)
I am a passionate veterinarian with a deep love for dogs and a strong commitment to their well-being. My expertise in veterinary medicine, combined with my genuine affection for dogs, uniquely qualifies me to write informative and insightful articles about these beloved companions. Whether it’s topics on dog health, behavior, or care, I’m dedicated to providing valuable insights to fellow dog lovers.
AREAS OF Expertise
- Dog and Wellness
- Canine Behavior and Training
- Nutrition and Dietary Requirements for Dogs
- Infectious Disease Management in Dogs