One of the most common questions I’m asked is how to get your dog to listen without the need for constant treats. The answer – implement an intermittent schedule of reinforcement (i.e. reward your dog randomly for things she has learned and understands).
To better understand this, think about a person at the slot machine of their favorite casino. Humans spend hours sitting there, putting in money and pulling the lever, without being rewarded with a payout, all because they know a payout is coming EVENTUALLY, even if not for them.
This is exactly the thinking we want to instill in your dog. She will follow your instructions even without a reward because she knows one is on the horizon, eventually.
Please note – when teaching new commands, consistency and repetition are key! So when you start “sit”, you will likely be rewarding every time to build a pattern with your dog that we really like this behavior, and there is something in it for him if he listens. Randomly rewarding is a tool we use down the road, when your dog understands the behavior you are asking for.
So how do you do it?
For commands your dog knows reliably well (think you ask him to “sit” ten times and he complies without hesitation at least eight of those ten times) begin to randomize the rewards. Some “sits” receive a treat, some receive praise or a pet. Better yet, mix in “life rewards” (walks, dinner, you tossing the ball one more time) for following that command.
It is important when doing this to go against our human instincts and not follow a set pattern of rewarding (humans are so predictable!). Rather then rewarding every other time your dog follows a command (pups catch on to this very quickly), mix it up, so he may get two rewards in a row, then not another for the following three commands.
And while you’re at it, get those treats out of your hands! When my client’s pups are responding well we move to putting treats around the house in various locations. Then, when we ask the pup to “down” and she complies, we praise and go to the nearest treat location for a reward. Now your pup is figuring out just because there isn’t anything in your hand does not necessarily mean no reward!
Try these tips to take your training to the next level, and have a more responsive pup, sans treats!
All dogs young and old benefit from appropriate chew bones. Not only does chewing help with the furniture-ruining puppy teeth but bones also provide mental stimulation and help keep teeth and gums healthy. Ditch the rawhide and check out these safe and natural choices.
- Bully sticks
- Texas Toothpicks
- Canine Caviar’s buffalo line including Flossies and Rib Bones
- Raw marrow bones (freeze them for longer lasting fun)
- Antlers – long-lasting and green (antlers are collected after being naturally shed from deer)
- Water Buffalo Horns (a great choice for dogs with allergies)
- Be sure to look for chews that are sourced in the USA (New Zealand is another good source).
Providing appropriate chews doesn’t have to break the bank either. I recommend Bestbullysticks.com to my clients for great prices and a wide selection of products including odor free bully sticks and novel protein source chews for pups with allergies.
So go on, give your dog a bone!
Jerky treats are a favorite of my basset hounds, Tabasco and Dharma, and finding the snacks made in the USA with all natural ingredients and in a variety that won’t interfere with Dharma’s chicken allergy for less than $28 per pound can be a challenge. After reading about dogs suffering from kidney failure from eating chicken jerky treats from China I decided it was time to try my hand at making these favorites at home.
I purchased a food dehydrator along with a jerky gun and a range of ground jerky ingredients (pork, turkey, beef and lamb) and set out to make my first batch. I mixed each pound of meat with a 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and a healthy sprinkle of parsley. Although large amounts of garlic can be problematic for dogs moderate servings (about 1 clove per day for a 50 lb dog) have many health benefits such as repelling fleas and acting as a natural antibiotic.
After each batch was mixed it was simple to create strips and logs using the jerky gun. I then placed them on the dehydrator and dried.
They were an instant hit!
With a successful first batch of jerky under my belt I decided to create some other snacks for the dogs to enjoy – sweet potatoes and a range of fruit – which were devoured almost as quickly as the jerky.