Can you train a dog without treats?

Most professional dog trainers recommend that dog owners start obedience training with yummy treats, then wean their dogs off treats later. Treats are a powerful training tool, and while it’s possible to train your dog without treats, starting with food rewards ensures you have your dog’s focus.

When learning how to properly train with treats, it’s very common to encounter this issue. If your dog only pays attention when there are treats nearby, it may indicate that he is a smart dog, but it is a frustrating situation for owners.

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Let’s take a look at the basic food instincts of our dogs.

Dogs want to connect with us so badly, but because we don’t understand what they need, we divert their attention or break the connection by using objects or treats that are meaningless to dogs.

Food and treats are powerful drivers in your dog’s life. They are the major player of basic survival instincts. However, dogs do not associate them with learning new things or making connections with people. Food, and more importantly treats, have their time and place. However, if the training isn’t done properly, your dog will naturally prefer the treat to the task or to the thing that really matters: YOU.

Without anything in the way that might distract or annoy you and your dog, you must first establish a personal, deep connection if you want to connect with your dog. Especially if you consider your dog a family member.

Numerous people, including experts, will inform you that dogs are motivated by treats and food. However, there are two types of dogs: those who enjoy food and those who do not. Any dog may act however he pleases if he sees a piece of food, depending on how hungry he is. This is a dog’s basic, natural response to survival.

The perception that dogs are motivated by food is true only in the case that they may enjoy it That’s all. That does not imply that he is completing the task given to him or that he is aware of the exercise you are providing. He is responding to the temptation. When you constantly tease a dog who loves food and make him feel stressed out, he becomes agitated and the effect is the opposite. He is concentrating on the food rather than the task at hand. As far as I’m concerned, this is cruel to the dog.

Treats can be given to the dog as a reward for being calm and well-mannered. I do not, however, advise using treats to train animals or to try to connect with them. When rewards are used to change a dog’s behavior, only situations involving hunger and his survival instincts make the dog feel connected to the new behavior. This is particularly true if the dog had trouble getting food when it was a puppy or a young dog. Furthermore, a dog that is unbalanced and misbehaving when treats are used may interpret the idea of the treat and the techniques as being rewarded for misbehaving or receiving praise without cause.

Some dogs are completely uninterested in or motivated by food. My own dog is one of many that refuses to eat treats that I have encountered. Dog owners of these breeds frequently coerce their canines into enjoying the treats, eating them, and following instructions. These dogs are obviously uninterested because they are not responding to it. They are seeking and desiring alternative sources of inspiration and connection from their owners.

According to recent studies, dogs prefer praise over food. This indicates that dogs are requesting that we train them using a different method. After all, connecting with dogs is essentially what training them is all about. We cannot converse with them or instruct them without a connection. Dr. Gregory Berns has conducted a number of studies and experiments on dogs using MRI technology in order to examine brain activity while the MRI was being done. When he gave the dogs food as a reward, he observed that the dogs’ reward systems were activated and responding to him rather than the food. The dog was doing the task primarily because the person giving the food was doing it, NOT because of the food.

Think about it. For instance, pay attention to homeless people who have dogs. They don’t bond with or train their dogs using foods or treats. Nevertheless, they are among the most well-behaved dogs in our society. These dogs follow their owners without a leash, don’t bark, and behave well because they have a strong, inborn bond with them.

The results of Dr. Berns studies are huge. This alters the way we perceive dogs, dog training generally, and the centuries-old bond between people and dogs. It offers a new and fresh perspective on our relationship with our dogs and gives us the chance to modify and modernize the dog training methodology.

Using Leash Gestures With Your Commands

Using a collar and leash, I learned how to train Sally without using treats. Depending on how I tugged on the leash, Sally would know what to do. I used a pinch collar on Sally specifically, but I strongly advise you to read the articles I’ve linked to and do any additional research before applying this to your dog. You must use a training collar with which you are comfortable and apply the recommended techniques.

I’ll attempt to explain these leash gestures as well as the hand motions I made while training Sally in this article. Because eventually your dog will be off leash and you still want them to listen, it’s important to be consistent with these things. So instead of relying on a leash, you can rely on a hand gesture as well as a voice command.

Phasing out rewards during positive reinforcement training

Many pet owners worry that if they use positive reinforcement training, they will always need to carry around a pocket full of treats for their dog. Fortunately, this isn’t the case, and you can begin to sporadically praise the behavior as your dog becomes more dependable with his response to a given command. For instance, you might still say “good boy” to your dog when you ask him to “sit,” but you’ll only give him a treat after a few successful “sit” attempts. At first, the rewards should still be given frequently, but as time passes, you can gradually reduce the frequency until you’re only giving out treats occasionally.

The best way to ensure that your dog remembers the training is to give him irregular and intermittent rewards. To better grasp this idea, consider a player at a slot machine in a casino. They will keep pulling the lever if they keep winning a prize each time they do so until they stop. They’ll stand up and leave when the machine stops “paying out.” Because the casino owners are aware of this, the machines are set up to only award prizes periodically. Because they never know exactly when the machine will pay out, the player will continue engaging in the desired behavior (inserting money and pulling the lever) for a much longer period of time. Your dog is subject to the same idea, but in this instance, you are the device dispensing the enticing treats!


How do I get my dog to obey commands without treats?

Treats are a crucial component of positive reinforcement, rewards-based training, but you must be careful to balance the treats your dog receives with the total number of calories they receive each day. If you give your dog too many treats, you risk making him overweight and unwell in addition to ruining his desire for real food.

Are treats necessary for dogs?

Play as a Reward Hold your dog’s favorite toy out like a treat, and when they comply with your requests, immediately reward them with a rousing game of their preferred activity. The secret to toy training is getting your dog to settle down so they can continue working.