Treat training to no treats?

Discussion in 'General Dog Training' started by basenjimom, Mar 27, 2008.

  1. basenjimom New Member

    So when I trained dogs in my teens I never used treats. Now I'm working with my girls 6 of our 8 are rescues, so I use treat training with them, but how do I get them off the treats?
    Hermione 5yr beagle will do anything I ask for a treat, but almost nothing without unless you repeat the command or give her the "you better" look. LOL

    Thanks for any advice!

  2. Jean Cote Administrator

    Well, if you have been training her using treats ONLY, then you can't just suddenly stop using treats, otherwise your dog will stop working for you.

    You have to wean off the treats gradually and to start using other reinforcements, like praise and petting. Usually you should use treats to train the behavior, and then to start weaning off the treats once the behavior is fully trained.

    One way to do it is to reinforce using food only for the exceptional responses. Meaning that you keep some treats with you at all times, and that when your dog responds to the command very good, then you can give her a treat. This will keep the dog guessing as to whether she will get a treat or not. This will also generate more enthusiasm as the treats are more scarce. And the final result being that you can use any command to elicit behavior without food present. :)

    P.S. Nice avatar by the way!
  3. sarhaspups New Member

    I agree with what Jean said and also to add to his comments, if your dog is toy motivated you can also use those to your advantage and reward with a ball/ tug or any toy that really gets them excited?? Just a thought. Keep working with different things to motivate him, good luck!
  4. basenjimom New Member

    Thank you. I do use praise with the treats and like when were working she will do anything for the thought of a treat. Like we will heal then she will come to a sit prising along the way, then I will tell her down and she will go down then get a treat. (as she is still learning this) However on our walks when I have no treats with me she will not sit when I stop, even though she knows how, if I have treats she looks like she could go in the ring she heals and sits so well!!
    It's frustrating because I know she knows it and will do it on walks if I repeat the command... *sigh* stubborn little girl!! :-)
  5. yoyopoodle Well-Known Member

    On your walks she is probably just distracted... all those scents, ya know ;)

    You pick-up the pace so that she doesn't have time to think of other things, and I'd still bring treats on your walks. You can also just ignore her and stay in position, praising her (with a treat if that's what she needs) when she looks at you, sits, heels etc.

    You can also use a scent as a reward (have her track to find a toy/treat), but this is probably easier at home for weaning her off needing an imediate food reward... especially it it's becoming more of a negotiation with a bribe :)
  6. harry8 New Member

    Hi Basenjimom,

    I know how you feel! Harry is like that sometimes. There are too many distractions and will only listen if what we're offering is better than what's distracting him. If your dogs are used to treats, perhaps take some new, tasty and strong-smelling treats that will give her no choice but to obey your commands. But, as Jean says, wean then off. The less often you use them the more 'special' they become.

    I think I read in some training book that it's useful to have different levels of treats. eg Bronze (average treat or praise), Silver (better treat or toy), Gold (his fav treats). If he does the trick but takes a while give him a Bronze treat but if he gets the command spot on, then reward him a Gold. That way, he knows he'll get a better treat if he works harder.

    Think that's what I need to start doing anyway!

  7. hivin New Member


    Bailey is on a DR for tangible reinforcement. Initially she got treats for everything ... then we started increasing the number of times she was given a treat as reinforcement. We eventually got to a point where she got her treats after the training session was over. Since she's a Service Dog she's supposed to perform all tasks without tangible reinforcement when we're out in public. So we put her on a DR schedule ( basically she never knows when or if she'll get a treat for doing something ... a DRO/Differential Reinforcement Schedule ... is just a technical/professional term for intermittent reinforcement, you just vary when you're giving the rewards, sometimes there are no tangible rewards ... but always verbal praise and physical praise ) Now she can be out with us all day in public performing all her required tasks, etc and she's happy with pets and verbal praise. When training at home we continue to maintain the DR schedule with new skills she's learning.

    We do carry some treats with us though as she's also a therapy dog and the kids she works with love to be able to give her a treat ... also we have one child that she is working with on his fine motor skills and he's required to practice his pinser grasp by picking up the small treats between his thumb and index finger ... another student is a hemiplegic and he's required to use his left hand -- the impaired side -- to throw her balls and give her treats -- he he we told him she's a left handed dog.

    Take care all: Hivin
  8. lagomorphmonster New Member

    Do you find that if you use DR at home, but never treats in public, that a dog will not perform when in public (since never gets treats?)

    I think I'm getting this type of response from my dog, though I'll freely admit that I'm not a very experienced pet trainer, and my dog is quite excitable in public - so it may just be that I'm expecting too much too fast. I do think that over time, I do see an improvement, and she is more willing to follow commands without seeing treats at first.
  9. leema New Member

    Try looking at this site under "down". It has some guides for weaning off treats.
  10. hivin New Member

    No, actually we've never had any problem with her performing in public ... she generalized all her skills quite nicely from home to public places. That was the reason we started the intermittent reinforcement, so that she would do all of her tasks and tricks when we were out in public and not necessarily expect a treat everytime. That's never been an issue for us.

    Hope we didn't sound like we were trying to come off as a professional animal trainer... that wasn't our intent. The terminology is more related to our education and career ... we're a behavioural specialist and work with children/adults who have Autism Spectrum Disorders, Pervasive Developmental Disorders and with children who have severe behavioural/emotional/communication and sensory integrative disorders. All of our education and training is related to behaviour modification, operant conditioning, etc as it relates to humans ....... but it applies when one is working with animals just as well ... hope we didn't come across ( I do fall back into the terminology and forget sometimes that others may not be familiar with it ) like we were implying that we knew more than anyone else here. We don't .... as our Trainer that helped us with Bailey's original obedience training and then the special skills for Service Dog work said ..... hey, kids? animals? .. not a whole lot of difference ( what she didn't realize is ... we'd take training dogs any day, they don't talk back or call you nasty names ... well, she might have called me nasty names but I don't speak Cocker Spaniel so I'm blissfully unaware ).

    I can't recall how old your dog is ... still a puppy or close to it? Bailey is 4 now, nice and settled and not as distractable or excitable anymore like she was as a puppy or when she got to the terrible twos! It took a lot of work in environments with lots of distractions to teach her that it was more important to focus on us rather than the leaves blowing down the street or ... oh geesh, little kids, she adores children and occasionally we still have issues when kids are around .. even when she's got her SD Vest on they want to come and pet her, we have to verbally cue her that she's working.

    Take care, hope all is going well: Hivin

  11. yoyopoodle Well-Known Member

    That's part of the temperament that is a pass/fail on being a good service dog :) It is completely natural for some dogs, other learn it over time, and still others will never make it to the point of being reliable.

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