We have talked about the effectiveness of using food during dog’s training. Turns out, food can raise the level of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that has a major role to regulate movement and positive emotional response, and motivate them to seek or move towards the food reward. The use of food can motivate your dogs to perform and keep your dogs stay in their calmer state, so it is an important method at the beginning of your dog’s training, especially for those with aggressive or fearful dogs.
However, using food as a reward isn’t meant to be forever. The main goal of dogs’ training is to trust your dog to do as you asked without needing any lure every time. Well, it kind of silly to bring a pocketful of treats as a lure whenever we go with our dogs, right? So here’s the next level of your dog’s training: to learn how to do tricks without the needing of treats!
How to phase out treats when dog training
Well, it will be hard to just simply remove the treats during the dog’s training. Hence, you have to fade out the use of food reward step by step to let your dogs adjust with it.
The Real-Life reward
The reward does not always have to be food. It might be hard for your dogs to resist tasty treats, but they don’t always want it, right? Besides their love for food, your dogs may also love to walk outside, go to the park, or just simply want your attention. So, it will be a good idea to incorporate real-life rewards too. For example, if your dogs want to run around the park, you can ask for a Sit and the real-life reward is opening their leash. The real-life reward can also be in the form of giving praise or petting them. The earlier you start incorporating a different type of reward beside foods into your dog training, the easier it will be to phase out the treats later on.
Food as a jackpot
At the beginning of the training, we usually go for a click and treat method. It means every time our dog perform the cue that we asked for, we simply offer our dog with a treat in a click second. As your dog is getting better, then it is time for you to stop giving the treat to every cue. But a long period click-and-treat will make the phase-out stage become harder for you and your dogs. Once you want to stop giving them food, they might get mad and stop listening to you again. So how to prevent it from happening?
Remember about the Casino slot method? Now imagine the reward of food is a jackpot. We don’t always get a jackpot when we play casino slot, right? It means to give your dog with different reinforcement beside food so your dogs will not begin to expect the treats for every trick that they do. Alternate reward such as real-life reward that we have talked before will make your dogs continue to respond for your cue and do the tricks over and over again because they will never know when the jackpot, or the treat, is coming. You can combine the real-life reward with treats so it will make your dogs stop relying on food to perform consistent responses to your cues. It will be fun, too!
Fade out the lure, not the reward
Here’s the thing that we have to keep in our mind when phasing out the food in our dogs’ training: remember that the goal is to fade out the lure, the food or treat, not the reward. Keep them feel appreciated with a different kind of reinforcement, but avoid the lure dependence. You have to teach our dogs to perform the task, even when we don’t have any treats in our hands to lure them. Ideally, you can lure two or three times in a row, with a small piece of treats to guide our dogs to perform the task. After several times, do it the same, except now your hand is empty. The first attempt must work because your dogs cannot tell that you only pretend with food in your hands.
However, you can keep on giving them the food as a reward after following your empty hand and perform the right task. Do it several times, but if your dogs do not follow your empty hand anymore, try luring one more time, and try with an empty hand again. Repeat the pattern a few times, just make sure they cannot tell which one is the ‘jackpot’. The goal is to not luring every single time so your dogs can avoid lure dependence. If you continue to phase out the lure regularly, your dogs will become more comfortable to perform the task without a lure anymore
From here we know that the reward should not always be in the form of food or treats, but instead, it can be a real-life reward too. The use of food in the training might be effective, but it isn’t meant to last for the rest of your dog’s life. Hence, it is important to phase out the food from the training. Phasing out the food doesn’t mean to suck the fun out of the training. Praising, petting, or letting your dogs run in the park or sidewalk can make your dogs happy and feel appreciated too! It is also important for the development of your dogs’ behavior: to make them smarter and to make them more independent and comfortable!
After all, it is the happiness of your dogs that should be your priority. We cannot force them into training that they cannot enjoy. You don’t always have to bring a bag of treats anywhere you go with your dogs too, anyway… so it is a win-win solution!