Training a dog is simple!
You show him a new behavior followed by a command, then as soon as they replicate what you just showed him…
Voila… offer a treat!
Is that all there is to training your dog?
I mean, think of it.
Does your dog obey you because he respects and recognizes you as the leader or because you are that hooman who offers delicious treats when he behaves well – as a dog should?
Treat-based dog training can help a dog learn new behaviors quickly, but if you want to really bond with your dog while training him, then treatless dog training is the way to go.
In this article, you will discover alternatives to treat-based training and you will learn how to use them to teach your dog to come, sit, and stay without treats.
Let’s dive in.
Alternatives to Treat-Based Dog Training.
1. Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement training is a popular training method used by trainers such as Victoria Stilwell and Sylvia-Stasiewicz.
The idea behind this is straightforward. Dogs, like most living things, are pleasure-seeking animals.
They will keep repeating a behavior as long as they get a reward that they like. A trainer uses this to teach a dog to behave in a certain way. Any behavior outside of the desired behavior is neither rewarded, acknowledged, or punished – very important!
The only behavior that gets the dog a positive reward is the one the trainer desires of him.
If the dog needs to be corrected, that comes in the form of withdrawing cherished items such as toys, praise, pets, or treats. This will help condition the dog to perform the desired behavior to get back his toys or treat.
For the reward to work, it has to be offered immediately the desired behavior is completed. And, the commands need to be short and straight to the point: Sit. Come. Stay. Heel.
Positive reinforcement requires consistency. Start with rewarding your dog for each correct behavior. Slowly wean him of the reward as the behavior becomes ingrained in his mind.
2. Clicker Training.
The underlying principle of the clicker training method is very similar to that of positive reinforcement.
This method relies on the use of a device that produces a quick, sharp noise to signal to a dog that the desired behavior has been accomplished.
The noise-making device can be a whistle or, as the suggests, a clicker.
The advantages and benefits of the clicker method are that it is cheap (you only buy the clicker or whistle once), doesn’t affect your dog’s calorie intake (cue: dog treats), and is the easiest way to train a dog.
That’s because it signals the exact moment the desired behavior is completed, which helps the dog quickly understand what is being rewarded.
However, although rare, some dogs might become so attuned to the clicker that they won’t obey commands unless they see you with one! Plus, it isn’t that great for dealing with unwanted behaviors.
How does it work?
First, the dog is conditioned to expect a reward after the click. Then the dog learns to associate the desired behavior, with the click and reward. And lastly, verbal cues can be introduced to complete the conditioning.
3. Mirror Training.
No, not that mirror!
The mirror training method (also known as the model-rival method) is based on the fact that dogs learn faster by observing other dogs. It’s very similar to a child mimicking an adult.
However, in the dog’s case, you have to bring in another dog with the desired behavior and reward that dog for those behaviors.
The first dog (the one being taught) learns to mimic the model’s behavior (i.e. mirror it) to also get the same reward.
This sort of training method can be observed in pups and their parents. A puppy learns that biting is an undesirable behavior that hurts when the mother bites it back, although with less force.
4. Alpha Dog or Dominance.
A lot of research has been done on topics like this to disprove them, but the truth remains. To have an easy time with your dog, you have to be his leader – he has to see you as such.
This training method relies on a dog’s instinctual pack mentality where they follow the lead of the dominant or alpha dog.
The theory suggests that dogs view the people around them as members of their pack and they learned to follow the social hierarchy of the group.
To really understand and derive maximum benefit from this method, one has to learn to read and understand dog body language and respond accordingly.
This means exuding authority and confidence, going first when entering or exiting rooms, eating first, and making the dog work beside you on a leash.
Although dominance can help curb unwanted behaviors such as scavenging when on a walk, snatching food from you before it lands on the plate, and other erratic behaviors, it fails to address the underlying cause of bad behavior.
Rather, it makes dogs fearful and anxious and can kill the spontaneity in a dog’s behavior as well as kill any chance of close bonding since every action is viewed through the lens of dominance & submission.
5. Shock Training.
I saved the worst for last.
This training method relies on the use of an electric collar that delivers a shock or citronella to punish a dog when it is not performing the desired behavior.
It is mainly used where a leash can’t be used, for instance, a shock collar can be used to teach a dog not to go beyond the boundaries of an unfenced yard. As well as teaching dogs to hunt or work in the field.
While there’s less risk of a dog getting hurt compared to choke collars, slip collar, and other mechanical devices, this method teaches dogs what not to do, instead of what to do.
Plus, this can damage a dog psychologically as they do not know when the next shock will come.
Yes, professional trainers may get positive results from using this method, but that doesn’t change what I think of it – it is bad!!!
If you can’t use one on your kid (I am assuming you are not crazy enough to do so), then don’t use it on your dog.
They are kids too!
So, now we’ve seen different treatless dog training methods, how do you train a dog using these methods?
Other Rewards That Can Replace Treats.
We have seen the various alternative training methods that aren’t treat-dependent. However, a dog needs some reward (or) punishment to make a behavior ingrained in his mind.
So, what can you use as rewards to help your dog learn faster?
If you’ve seen or trained a dog for an active sport such as flyball or agility, then you know how valuable toys, play, and games are in this training.
However, games and play aren’t only for the sport-minded dog.
You can use play as a powerful tool to grow your relationship with your dog or as a potent reward for good behavior.
The most obvious play rewards are tugging and retrieving, but the games you play with your dog are only limited by your imagination and that of your dog!
2. Life rewards.
Life rewards are those things only your dog enjoys doing.
These could be going for a long walk, splashing in the sprinkler, swimming in the pond, or running around the yard. All of which can be used in the Premack Principle to teach your dog other behaviors.
The Premack Principle is simple; it is a theory that states that a high probability behavior (enjoyable activities) can be leveraged to make animals (humans inclusive) perform low probability behavior (unenjoyable activities).
Remember when you were a kid and your parents would make you do your homework or house chores before letting you play with the game console, baby doll, or friends… and, you’d happily do the homework?
That was the Premack Principle in action!
You can use this to teach a dog certain behaviors.
For instance, if you’re the pawrent of a dog that loves running around the yard or playing in the sprinkler.
You could make him sit, stand, heel, roll, etc. a couple of times before letting him play outside.
These types of rewards can easily be integrated into your daily life and can be particularly helpful in teaching a dog self-control.
3. Words of Encouragement.
For some dogs, praise is a reward on its own!
Simple phrases such as “good dog”, “clever girl”, and other happy talks can be paired with other types of rewards to help a dog learn a new behavior.
If, for instance, you are teaching your dog to “sit” or “come” on command, you can reward him with a click, tug, or treat, then chime in “good dog!” as you pat him on the head.
He’ll learn to associate the happy praise with the reward and soon enough you can use only the happy praise as his reward.
Touch is one of the most underutilized dog rewards probably because using it effectively can be quite tricky.
Before diving headfirst to use petting, rubs, or a massage to reward your dog for good behaviors, take some time to learn what he actually likes and when he likes it.
For instance, your dog may enjoy a chest scratch or belly run, but shy from a head pat.
Long, slow strokes may be enjoyable when he’s right next to you lying on the couch or bed, but annoying when he’s waiting to go play in the sprinkler.
Does that mean a belly rub or pat on the head will always be welcomed?
You also need to pay attention to your dog and how he responds to touch. If he tries to duck or move away when you go to touch him, then it means touch isn’t rewarding at that moment.
However, if he moves into you, then the touch is welcomed and is seen as a reward!
Start using these alternative rewards as soon as you can with your dog. This will help him quickly associate the reward with the desired behavior and as such respond faster.
How do you use these alternative rewards to train your dog?
How to Train a Dog Without Treats!
1. Teach Your Dog to Sit, Stay & Lay Down.
These are some of the basic commands every dog should know. And, you need to work on them for at least 10-20 minutes daily.
You start by having your dog on a leash and make him sit-stay by slowly tugging the leash towards their back to help put him in the sitting position while you repeat the words “stay.”
Hold this position for about 5 minutes (you can increase the duration later).
If your dog gets up, put him back in the position. When the time is up you can then reward him for their good behavior.
After a couple of days, increase the sit-stay duration.
Next, progress to the down-stay and do the same. For the down-stay, you need to make your dog sit, then move the collar and leash connector to the front and guide your dog to down-stay.
Once your dog has mastered these 10-20 minutes stay, experiment with leaving the room to see if he’ll try to follow you or get up.
Don’t go too far as you’ll need to be close to give corrections.
You could make him sit-stay or down-stay in the bathroom while you go to bring his bath accessories.
2. Teach Your Dog to Come.
When your dog has become a professional at sit-stay and down-stay, it’s time to work on the “come” command.
This command should always be issued with a happy tone of voice – try to remember how you felt when your parents called you in an unhappy tone. Dogs can feel that too!
Try this with a standard length leash in your backyard, hallway, sitting room, or any spacious room.
With the lead in your hand, put your dog in the sit-stay position. Move 3-8 steps away (depends on the leash) and get yourself into a squatting position.
Now, say “come” with your arms extending out in front of you.
If your dog doesn’t come it’s probably because he doesn’t understand the English yet 😄. So, gently tug until he reaches you, then reward him (click, pat, or toy).
Remember to include praises, “good boy”, “clever girl”, or whatever works for you!
You can perform this command before feeding your dog, letting him out of the door, bathing him, etc.
Just tell him to sit, then move away, and say “come!”
Remember to keep it positive and interesting for your dog. And, try not to repeat yourself too often so that your dog can learn to listen and obey once.
3. Train Your Dog to “Leave It”
Another important command your dog needs to learn and obey is the “leave it!” command.
It’ll help him master self-control, especially when you accidentally or intentionally drop a biscuit or piece of raw chicken on the floor, changing baby diapers, or setting up the dining table.
He may not understand it immediately, so give a gentle tug on his collar to pull him away from the object.
With time, he’ll learn to turn away from objects immediately after you issue the “leave it!” command.
This will really help prevent your dog from gobbling up random junk in the park or on a walk.
One of the important things you should remember from this article is consistency.
Training a dog without treats can seem daunting at first, especially if you’ve been using treats before.
You may be tempted to return to treat-based training when the going gets tough. But, you have to remember that you are building a different type of communication in your dog that tasks him to change the way he works for your love, affection, and reward.
It won’t be like this forever!
The truth of the matter is that it takes a dog roughly 10-14 days to learn a new behavior depending on how consistent you are.
If you think you might need a little assistance to get it right, then see our article 12-Point Checklist: How to Choose the Perfect Dog Trainer.
Be firm and remember that training a dog is a never-ending process.
It only gets easier!
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