How To Wean Off Treat Rewards

Variable Reward Dog Training

When training your dog with food, you want to move to variable reward dog training or variable delivery.   So what does that mean?

Teaching Phase:   1:1   (1 command = kibble payment)

When you're working on something new with your dog, you want to give 1 piece of kibble*.   The food is the payoff for working/learning.

At this stage of learning, you will even pay your dog for effort and attempting to try something new.

1:1 delivery is especially important when teaching and reinforcing your recall (Come) command.

Learning Phase:   1:2   or 1:3 

As your dog  demonstrates that he clearly understands the command, how to delivery the command and performs it accurately about 85-90% of the time, you want to begin varying the delivery of reward.

This means, when you request a command and the dog performs it, a kibble may or may not show up.  You might deliver reward every other time,  or every 3rd time.  To be clear - even this varies.   Meaning you alternate 1:1, 1:2, 1:3 in varying order.

Mastery Phase:  1: Random & Jackpots

As your dog has learned multiple skills, you will begin chaining them together.   Meaning, you ask for a sit, have him stay as you move away, ask for a distance down, and then recall the dog to you.   At the end of any series of skills you will give a reward -- maybe even a jackpot if it was done exceptionally well.  Jackpot simply means multiple kibble instead of just one.   Or maybe some special yumminess shows up as a surprise.

During a series of commands, or even practicing multiple repetitions of the same command, you could easily reward your dog with random delivery of food and random jackpots just to keep him motivated.

Other Points to Consider:

Don't ever move to a complete zero pay!    You wouldn't work for free would you?

Build a reliable recall and reward this one well and often!    See my FB post about Cheese wrapper training & how easy this can really be!

It has been proven, that dogs learn to anticipate the delivery of reward.  When you pair the delivery of food with a marker like "Good" or "Yes" -- it's still rewarding to the dog!  If no kibble shows up, he will work harder to earn it next time.     See our article on reward markers

*We prefer single ingredient treats like beef liver for training treats. If you’re a kibble feeder and worried about added calories, try using your dogs dinner for treats — you can dress it up with a little sprinkle of Parmesan cheese or garlic power. If we are working to overcome a behavioral problem like fear of strangers/kids or significant reactivity, we might tell you to rain down chicken from the sky.  But in those situations it's high value, lots of it and less about variable rewards.  That's a topic for another day.....

Dana Brigman