When can I stop rewarding a dog?
The habit of rewarding a dog for performing the desired behaviour is a staple of positive reinforcement training. Although there is a belief that food rewards can become ‘bribes’ that could make dogs dependent on food, this is not how it is used correctly.
Canine training is carried out in different phases.
The constant reward
At the beginning of the training process with positive reinforcement, rewarding a dog continuously is normal. Yes, this means rewarding your dog for each repetition of the command.
Repetition allows the learning of the new command to be consolidated. Then, when the dog can successfully execute each command without the need for hand gestures, body language, or attraction, the rewards program can be adjusted.
The variable or intermittent reward
Once the dog fully understands the verbal command, he can advance to a variable reward training. It can be scheduled, for which you plan to reward a dog at random intervals.
For example, you can reward every third, fifth, or first repetition. The idea of practising a variable rewards program is to generate a desire to run the command. Thus, the practice of variable reward induces the dog to perform each command with enthusiasm, regardless of whether that repetition is rewarded or not.
Stop rewarding a dog forever?
Objectively, there is no reason to eliminate rewards when it comes to training a dog completely. Many experts recommend keeping the variable rewards program in use.
Good behaviour may be rewarded with food, a toy reward, or playtime. Maintaining the reward system makes training fun for your dog, but also ensures attachment to ‘good’ behaviours.
How to detect that you can advance to the variable reward phase?
Now that you know how to fade the use of treats in dog training, it is important to get it right at the right time. You must build an obedience foundation before waiting for your dog to perform without a treat.
Thus, you must make sure that your dog has a constant response to the command in different environments: at home, outside, while walking without a leash, etc. You should also consider obedience in the presence of a variety of distractions: when there are other dogs around, groups of people, traffic noise.
It is important to keep in mind that training should be fun and rewarding for both you and your dog. So increasing treat rewards with attention, praise, cuddling, gaming, and freedom to sniff or explore will make the dog happy and obedient.
Reward a dog by alternating treats with real-life rewards
Surely, you may have noticed that dogs find many gratifying things in life. For this reason, while treats are incredible motivators for your puppy, there are times when they crave other things.
It is possible to take advantage of these moments to teach your dog that he can get what he wants, simply by showing the desired behaviour. To illustrate this type of rewards to a dog, we write down some examples:
- Your dog wants to go out in the garden, and you can give him a ‘sit’ command: the real-life reward is to open the door.
- During a walk, you can reward your dog by keeping the leash loose, to allow him for a moment to sniff a corner that interests him.
- If your dog comes when they call him, take a ball and play with him to catch it.
Professional dog trainers are always thinking of taking advantage of each particular moment. Observation allows them to pose a reward to encourage good behaviour.
By incorporating different ways to reward a dog during training, it will be easier to lower the treat rewards later.