5 Ways to Train a Dog Without Treats


Giving your dog treats is a great way to motivate them during training. However, if your dog is not driven by food, or you simply choose not to use treats for training your dog, we have good news for you! You can actually train your dog without treats.

There are various ways you can train your dog without using treats. You can play with them, use life rewards, offers warm words, touch them where they like it, and creating space. A reward will depend on the individual dog. Your dog has to want the reward so they would put effort into it.

By observing your dog and trying different approaches, you are able to know what kind of reward they like.

Other Rewards You Can Give Your Dog When Training

1.    Playing with Your Dog

Those who have experience training their dog for an active sport such as flyball and agility know well the value of using games, play, and toys in training. However, these types of rewards don’t only apply to sports-minded dogs. Playing with your dog is a powerful tool to build a great relationship between you and your dog, which can also be used as a potent reward. Retrieving and tugging are the most apparent play rewards, but you can try other things that your dog may like.

2.    Use life rewards

When we say “life rewards,” these are the things that a dog enjoys in their daily lives, like running in the backyard, going for a walk, and splashing in a sprinkler. These can be harnessed through the Premack Principle.

What is the Premack Principle? It is a principle of reinforcement stating that a chance to engage in more apparent behaviors or activities will reinforce less apparent behaviors or activities. In other words, a low-probability behavior may be reinforced by a higher-probability behavior.

For instance, if you want to strengthen your dog’s sit, you can ask them to sit before providing access to things that they enjoy, such as swimming in the pool, playing with other dogs, or cuddling with them on the couch.

This type of reward system is also easy to integrate into your everyday life and can be helpful if your dog needs assistance with self-control.

3.    Give Warm Words to Your Dog

A simple “Good dog,” “happy talk,” or praise are some of the most common rewards you can give to your dog. Some dogs find praise naturally rewarding. Dogs that don’t seem to prefer praise as a reward may also become praise seekers when frequently paired with other cool and great things for them.

For instance, when teaching your dog the “down” command, you can follow with a click, then a tug and you can say “Good dog!” as you play the game of tug. Your dog will then learn to associate that praise with a tug and “Good dog!” are his rewards.

4.    Touch Your Dog Where They Like It

Touch is a wonderful yet tricky reward you can use for your dog.

Before rubbing, massaging or petting your dog as a reward, you have to consider two things first:

  • The types of touch your dog enjoys.
  • When does your dog enjoys being touched?

For instance, your dog might enjoy a head pat but doesn’t like a chest scratch that much. Your dog may feel good with slow and long strokes when they are settled next to you, but they find it irritating if they are waiting to play with you in the yard.

You always have to pay attention to your dog’s reactions whenever you touch them. When your dog doesn’t engage with you or ducks away, it might not be rewarding for them. When your dog comes towards you, engages and asks for more, it is probably rewarding for them.

5.    Create Space

Maybe you’re wondering how you can use space as a reward. You can remove social pressure or increase the distance as a reward for your dog. Space can be a powerful reinforcement in the appropriate situation.

For instance, your dog can be rewarded for looking away in the presence of a trigger that can cause anxiety, such as a scary person when the distance is increased by moving your dog away from that trigger.

You can use space in subtler or smaller manners by removing social pressure in your daily interactions. For instance, when you want your dog to stay out of the kitchen with the use of gentle body blocks. When your dog finally accepts the kitchen door boundary, you can back up a bit and give them space and removing the body block’s social pressure.

Reasons to Utilize Reward-Based Training for Your Dog

Reward-based training is simply giving your dog rewards of desirable and good behavior and ignoring undesirable behaviors.

Instead of using dominance or respect method to train your dog, you can use reward-based training, which focuses on what motivates your dog. Remember to use it humanely to help improve the behavior of your dog. The reward could be a treat, play, praise, touch or anything that your dog would really like.

Reward-based training is also known as positive dog training or force-free training and it mainly relies on positive reinforcement.

1.    Positive reinforcement is the most recommended training method by professional organizations.

Several organizations are against the use of punishment in training a dog because there are scientific studies that it can cause harm to your dog, both physically and psychologically.

The organization Dog Trust recommends the use of rewards and positive reinforcement in dog training. They believe that to gain the best results and to be effective, dog training should be based on positive rewards. It works because rewarding your dog with something they really want; they are more likely to do the desirable behavior again.

The American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior also recommends positive reinforcement. They endorse training methods that allow dogs to work for things, such as play, food, and affection, that motivates them, instead of techniques that use pain or fear to punish them for bad behavior.

2.    Positive reinforcement yields better results

Owners that use positive reinforcement with their dogs reported to having better-behaved dogs than those that use aversive methods. Dogs that have been trained using positive reinforcement are less likely to have behavior issues. This is because a dog that undergoes aversive training does not associate their behavior with punishment. Instead, they associate the punishment with the context or the owner, and as a result, they may become anxious and fearful. Training with punishment may also result in your dog having aggressive tendencies.

3.    It is better for animal welfare

One of the most important considerations when training a dog is good animal welfare, and reward-based training does this.

Aversive techniques in dog training provide effects that give rise to signs of distress in dogs. There was a study made that observed the body language of dogs that were trained with positive reinforcement and aversive techniques.

Dogs that were trained using aversive techniques showed stress-related behaviors. They had lowered body posture, and they looked less at their trainer or owner compared to the dogs trained using positive reinforcement.

Reward-based training will give your dog a fun experience that is less stressful and pain-free.

4.    It is good enrichment

Several studies have shown that dogs that work in order to earn a reward are happier than dogs that are just given a reward without working for it. When you give your dog the chance to earn their reward, it can be an excellent enrichment activity for them.

5.    Dogs learn better with rewards

Dogs that have undergone training with the use of positive reinforcement learn a new task better and faster. A dog with a history of reward-based training increases the success of the dog-owner partnership in future training. It increases the aptitude and motivation of the dog to learn because of the anticipation of rewards.

6.    It concentrates on what your dog can do

It actually makes sense and easier to teach your dog what they should do instead of what not to do. It is rather frustrating when your dog keeps on doing something that you don’t like. It could be frustrating for your dog, as well.

For instance, your dog jumps up on you. It is possible that they are only trying to get close to you, and they won’t get it if you push them away.

Instead, you can teach your dog that if they keep all their paws on the ground, a treat and affection await them as rewards. Ultimately, they will learn to do the desired action because of the reward. It’s a win-win situation.

7.    It is fun

Dog training is better when it is fun for your dog. The use of rewards to teach them what they should do can be something fun for you and your dog. They are going to easily learn to sit, down and stay, and other commands because they simply enjoy what they are doing.

8.    It creates calm dogs

If you have an energetic or young dog, reward-based training is an excellent way to get rid of the excess energy. You can do a few five to ten-minute sessions every day, which can give your dog extra physical and mental stimulation they need. As a result, you are able to reinforce the behaviors you want.

9.    It creates friendly dogs

Because this method makes training fun and doesn’t use aversive techniques, it won’t be stressful for your dog. When you use positive reinforcement to train your dog, you are instilling in them calmness and confidence, instead of aggression and fear.

10.  It also teaches you to understand your dog

Reward-based training does not only help dogs understand what you need them to do, but it also enables you to know how your dog feels. This is important in predicting your dog’s reaction in certain situations and will make preventing difficulty situations a piece of cake.

Positively Reinforcing Desired Behavior with Rewards

1.    Find out what type of reward does your dog is willing to make a strong effort to work for.

Rewards in dog training can be anything, as long as your dog likes them. Examples are treats, belly rub, travelling in the car, or playing in the yard. I will all depend on what they enjoy. Dogs are different, so you can’t expect them to like the same stuff. Most dogs enjoy toys, food, and attention.

2.    Give a reward for every good behavior

Whenever your dog behaves well, let them know that they did well by giving them a reward. Use a reward that your dog really wants. You can use a gentle fuss, a stroke or just calmly speaking to your pooch when they are behaving calmly and quietly, so they don’t get too excited all of a sudden. When they are doing something active, such as running towards you when you call them, you can reward them with an energetic and active game. As long as your dog is enjoying the reward, it is truly rewarding for them.

3.    Reward every time you train and think about modifying the rewards over time

When you are training your dog with a new skill, it is crucial that your reward them every time they do the job well. When they have learned and mastered the behavior and can execute it in different environments, you can change the type of reward you are going to give. You don’t need to give treats as a reward for the rest of their life. You can use praises such as “good dog!” instead of always giving them a treat.

For instance, when you are using treats to train your dog to do a new behavior, reward them with treats each time, to begin with, then you can alternate the treat rewards with fuss or praise instead. You can fuss or praise as long as the dog likes it, and then give a treat every third time. You can mix up rewards, so your dog will be surprised by what kind of reward they will get every time.

4.    Timing is crucial

Using a marker can be helpful, for it will serve as a signal that will tell your dog when they are doing something you like at the exact time. The marker will let your dog know that they have done something right and that a reward is immediately coming up. You can use a clicker or say the word “yes!” as a marker. When you choose a marker, stick to it. Make sure that every marker is followed by a reward.

When you are teaching your dog behavior, mark the behavior at the precise moment so your dog would know what behavior earns the reward. This will make them do the behavior again because they are motivated by the reward.

5.    Positive reinforcement can be a way of life for your dog

You can begin to set things up for you to have the means to reward your dog for performing good behavior. This will make them do the behavior again. You can plan ahead so that you can always give your dog a reward that they will find rewarding and enjoyable whenever they perform a desirable behavior. Eventually, good behaviors will become the norm for them.

6.    You can use various rewards depending on the place and time

There may be instances when your dog will need a different or extra reward. When you always train your dog at home, and you try to train them in another environment, like the front yard where it has more distractions and much busier, you can add a reward or give a different reward to make them more motivated.

If your dog finds it hard to respond to you because of the distractions, you might have to put on a little extra effort when it comes to giving rewards. For instance, you can give your dog a treat then play with them afterward.

How to Use Positive Reinforcement in Dog Training

Get Everyone Involved

Using positive reinforcement will allow every member of the family to participate in training the dog. It does not require you to use your strength, speak with a strong tone or put yourself or one of your family members in possible danger. Everyone in the household can get in on the act.

For example, you cannot, in any way, allow your child to use punishment in training, such as leash corrections. However, with positive reinforcement, you can get your children involved. Give them a handful of treats and teach them how you train your dog. Your children can train your dog under your supervision.

Use Positive Reinforcement for Different Behaviors

Using punishment in training is not effective for all dogs. In some cases, it could make their behavior even worse.

A perfect example is aggressive dogs. They actually become more aggressive with punishment. Fearful dogs won’t respond well to training with punishment too. They can be even more afraid about the method.

Positive reinforcement training, such as clicker training, is reported to have great success in training fearful and aggressive dogs.

Establish Communication

Positive reinforcement will allow you to communicate with your dog clearly. You are the one to decide what you want them to do and you can let it know by giving rewards when your dog performs the desired behavior. When a reward is provided every time your dog does an action correctly, they are more likely to do good behavior again because we all know that dogs love to please their owners.

On the other hand, using punishment is not always clear. One good example is when you punish your dog for a housebreaking accident. When you catch your dog peeing on the carpet and smack or scold them, your intention is to tell them that it is not acceptable to pee inside the house. However, they can misinterpret the punishment and think that it would not be safe for them if they pee whenever you are around.

Clearly, there is a communication problem there. Causing fear is not really an effective way for your dog to learn.

Using positive reinforcement will avoid that confusion. For example, you are house training your dog, and you want them to go potty outside at all times. Instead of punishing them for accidents, you are going to reward the good behavior, which is going potty outside. Every time your dog successfully eliminates outside, you should give them a treat, lots of praises, or provide them with freedom for some playtime.

If you are consistent and patient, your dog will learn that they will have a reward when they go potty outside, and they will realize that nothing good will happen when they eliminate inside the house. Your dog will eventually eliminate outside every time as an effort to receive the rewards because you have communicated that clearly to your dog.

Keep the Training Fun

Keep each training session upbeat and short so that positive reinforcement can be fun for both you and your dog. Once your dog learns that training can lead to lots of great things for them, they will start to view training sessions as a time for play.

Ultimately, your dog will offer you desirable behaviors hoping they would get a reward, making them more eager to learn.

Offer Mental Stimulation

One of the major factors in behavioral problems among dogs is boredom. When dogs are bored, they tend to dig and chew on everything. Training is a good way to help them not to get bored. Your dog will burn off a lot of energy with a few positive, short training sessions each day.

Strengthen Your Bond

Most people consider their dogs, their companions, friends, and a part of the family. Positive reinforcement is a great way to reinforce your bond with your dog. While other training techniques may allow your dog to learn how to behave, positive reinforcement is also able to maintain your dog’s trust in you, thus, strengthening your relationship.

If you put yourself in a dog’s place, you would understand. You won’t feel comfortable if your boss is physically pushing you to get your work done. You will enjoy working if you are offered a positive environment with perks and compliments. You will surely work harder if you know that there is a reward waiting for you when you do a good job.

It’s the same way for dogs. They will enjoy your company and feel motivated because they’re looking forward to the reward rather than being scared of punishment.

Problems and Proofing Behavior

The most important aspects of positive reinforcement are patience and consistency. When your dog isn’t obeying a command, it can be frustrating and you might also be tempted to show disappointment or anger. You have to keep in mind that dogs read body language better than spoken words, so you also need to project positivity in your movements.

If ever you get frustrated, stop, and take a deep breath. Remember that your dog is still doing their best. Take time to relax. When you are relaxed, you can start the training again on a positive note with a smile. Your dog is able to pick up on that and they will surely look forward to the training and whatever you have in store for them.

You should offer different rewards that appeal to your dog. When you are teaching a new command or dealing with behavior issues, you can offer in an irresistible and delectable treat that they can’t refuse. Remember that you should reserve that kind of treat only for training. You can add praise or a pat on the head to give the reward an extra appeal.

When your dog gets better, you can return to their regular treats or provide their favorite toy as rewards. You have to offer lots of praise. Soon enough, you won’t have to reward your dog every time. Your affection would be enough for them to do the job well.

Is Reward-Based Training Suitable for All Dogs?

Reward-based training and positive reinforcement are based on the principle of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a theory that when a behavior is rewarded, it will be repeated. Dogs of all breeds, temperaments, and ages can be trained successfully with the method. It is a great tool for making your dog learn new behaviors, such as down and come, sit, heel, as well as dealing with unwanted behaviors such as pulling during walks and jumping up on someone.

Reward-based training is truly a fun way to accomplish training goals.

Final Thoughts

You have so many options when it comes to the positive reinforcement method of dog training. Food is not the only reward you can give your dog. You have to know what they truly like, and your dog will surely be motivated to do what you want. Training will be fun and easier, and you will have a well-behaved and calm dog.

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