It’s a tale as old as time: you’re sitting down to eat a nice chicken dinner and your dog is waiting by your feet, licking their chops. You tell them to sit and they promptly do. Shake? Flawless. Speak? They perform a flawless rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. You reward them with a nice chunk of chicken and you’re both happy. You may not know it at the time, but you’re treat training.
Then it’s bedtime. You tell your dog to sit, thinking they will behave, but they keep tripping you as you perform your nightly routine. You tell them to shake, but they raise their hindquarters before pouncing on a ball.
Why aren’t they listening to you?
This blog comes straight from the frustrated mind of our employees. You’ve heard about their mini dachshund before in previous blogs and he’s become the perfect case study for us at Doggy Brace. This pup in question was heavily treat-trained by his previous owners. While he knows basic commands and performs them, he listens much better when a t-r-e-a-t is in his owner’s hand.
How can you break this cycle?
Is Treat Training Bad?
No! We are huge advocates for treat training. However, we are not advocates for dogs who only listen when there is a treat in your hand. See the difference?
If you don’t want to start this cycle, we recommend treat training without the treat in your hand. Keep them out of sight (and out of the reach of your dog’s nose) until they successfully perform the trick. This is the proper way to train, so your dog will know to listen without the promise of a reward.
Breaking the Cycle of Treat Training
(Or as our employee calls it, breaking their dog’s stubborn streak). The key to breaking the habit of treat training – for both you and your dog – is to reward them in other ways without the treat in sight. Your dog was taught that if they perform an action, they get a reward. If they see the reward, they are more likely to perform the action.
In other words: teach your dog they will still get rewarded, even if they can’t see a treat.
Doing so can be a little slow, but it’s all about consistently avoiding to fill that need for immediate gratification. Your dog will slowly understand that they don’t need to see a treat to perform an action – they need to perform the action and be okay with not getting rewarded immediately or with food.
Here’s how to start.
Get into a Training Routine
Dogs like routines. They like knowing what they have to do to get something, or when something is going to happen. We recommend starting a routine where they have to perform their tricks before you feed them dinner, or having them sit and stay before it’s time to go on a walk to really test their patience. This also has the added benefit of showing them that rewards can be normal meals and walks instead of table scraps or treats.
Once they’re in this routine, fit random tricks in throughout the day to keep them on their toes. Tell your dog to sit before you throw their favorite toy, or to shake after they’ve won a game of tug-of-war. Once they perform the act, give them a lot of pets and make a show of walking to get them a treat. They will get excited and will likely pick the fact that tricks come before treats a little faster.
Eventually, you’ll be able to start skipping the treats every now and then, or substituting it with verbal affirmation to get their tail wagging.
But don’t rush this! If your dog is anything like our employee’s mini dachshund, then they’re stubborn. Training a dog out of a learned behavior will take a lot of patience on your part and some disappointment on your dog’s end. It’s all part of the process, but in the end it will be worth breaking those treat training habits.
Want other training tips? We have a ton of them! Check out our blog on how to get a dog to stop jumping on people, and our blog on how to train your dog to ring a bell when they want to go outside! That’s all from us today! Play on!