Food is a necessity, and whatever we do is basically to ‘get a square meal’, as they say. Similarly, dogs love food too, and we make it a tool to train them. What we forget, however, is that we also need to teach them that their action is desired even when there is no treat involved. Because a) you won’t have a treat every time and, b) you don’t want your dog to gain weight with all that eating.
Here is how you can go about making your dog listen to you without giving him treats:
1. Use the treat to lure initially
When you are beginning to train your dog, treats will definitely help them to get started.
2. Fade the treat after you know they have learned something
Once you know they have learned an action, make them follow your hand. They should know that they are not doing something for the treat, but because ‘you’ are asking them to do it.
3. Reach out to the treat and then give it
Yes, reward them with treats after the action. They should know that their action is appreciated which is why they get a treat. The action should not be motivated by the treat. There is a thin line between the two i.e. bribing and rewarding, which makes all the difference.
4. Use a consistent cue
Whenever your dog does something good, say a fixed word like ‘yes’; and then reward them. That way they make an association with good behaviour and a reward afterward.
5. If you look at the treat, they will too
When you are asking your dog to do something, maintain eye contact with him. If you are eager to give the treat, they’ll observe it, and we don’t want them to learn this behaviour.
Substitutes for treats
Now, if you can’t use a treat, you need something else as a reward or a training tool. Every situation will need different things. Here are a few to help you get started.
Suppose you are playing tug with your dog, and finally you take the toy away from him. The moment you do it, you can teach ‘leave’ to him. As a reward, he gets another round of tug, or you can throw the toy and ask him to fetch it. Later, use the cue word and give him a treat if you want.
2. Environment rewards
Rewards can also be in the form of letting him do what he likes. For example, if he is not jumping, but standing still, and you want to reward him. Simply open the door, and take him for a walk.
Or if your dog likes to sniff, you can keep something with you that he can sniff.
Or if he is fearful of something, take a step back.
3. Don’t use food to lure when he is fearful
He might stop liking it altogether, because it will become a negative association.
To sum up, the thumb rule to make your dog listen to you without treats is- ‘reward, don’t bribe’.