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Treat Free Training: How to Fade Out Treats When Training

Training your dog to respond to commands reliably is so rewarding. When you go from bribing your dog with treats to rewarding them sometimes for obeying your commands, they learn to listen better and more consistently. This transition not only improves your dog's obedience but also strengthens your bond. Here’s some tips on how you can effectively move from luring to rewarding, laying the groundwork for a well-behaved companion.

Understanding Luring

Luring involves using a treat to guide your dog into completing a specific command. For instance, holding a treat near their nose and pulling it slowly up and over their head will often lead them to sit as their head follows the treat upwards. At first, the treat both motivates and directs the desired action.

Transitioning to Rewarding

When you are confident that your dog knows the command you are teaching them and not just blindly following the treat right in front of their nose, the next step is improving the reliability of that command. The way you will do that is to swap from showing your dog the treat and bribing them into listening to leaving the treat out of sight and pulling it out once the command has been completed.

1. Keep Treats Out of Sight: To start, you’re going to keep your dog's treats in your treat pouch, or pocket when you give them a command. A simple trick for when you’re first transitioning to no treats in your hands is to still use the hand gestures you usually make when luring your dog. i.e. empty hand to the nose, pull up for a sit. Once your pup completes the command you’ll reach into your treat pouch, pull out a treat, and reward your pup for obeying the command.

2. Use Periodic Rewarding: Periodically rewarding your dog instead of giving them a treat every time they obey your commands can sometimes be more effective than rewarding your dog every time they obey a command. Mix it up so that when you reward doesn’t become predictable as well. This method keeps the dog guessing and can even lead to quicker and more enthusiastic responses over time.

3. Replace Food with Other Rewards: There are other ways to motivate dogs to listen besides treats. Start utilizing other forms of rewards such as playtime, petting, or verbal praise as well. This helps you to become more exciting and interesting to your pup which draws their sole focus off of the treats and more onto you.

4. Practice and Consistency: Now continue to practice this over and over, in your home, your backyard, on a walk, or at a park. You name it. Regular practice and being consistent (Making sure that at the end of the day, your pup did do what you told them to do) is key to getting your pup to listen every time you give them a command, no matter where it is you’re at.

Beyond Rewarding: Correcting Disobedience

Once your dog consistently responds to your commands with periodic rewards, the next step is addressing their disobedience. This stage is about teaching your dog that while good behavior results in rewards, poor behavior leads to consequences. That can come in the form of a proper, well-timed correction or no reward at all. Corrections should be clear communication that a behavior is not acceptable.

Types of Corrections:

- Verbal Corrections: A firm "No" or "Uh-uh" can let your dog know the behavior is unwanted.

- Leash Pop: Following up a verbal correction with a physical correction gives the verbal correction more meaning to your pup. Make sure there is some slack in the leash (If your pup is only listening to your commands because you have a treat in front of their face then they should still be leashed up for training) and give your pup a quick tug on the leash is an effective correction that gets your pups attention off whatever it is that’s distracting them and back on to you.

- Withholding Rewards: In some instances, simply not giving a reward can be an effective way to communicate to your pup that they are not doing what it is that you’ve asked them to.

- Guidance: When correcting your pup, no matter what form of correction you use (and you should be utilizing different forms depending on the “offense”) you always want to follow it up with the command that you originally asked them to perform. I asked my dog to sit but they ignored me. I give them a firm “No.” then repeat the command and guide them into obedience.

By incorporating these strategies into your training, you move towards a relationship based on respect and understanding, where your dog learns to listen not out of the expectation of a treat but because they have learned to respect your guidance.

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