The most common question I receive from people standing, breathless, a handfull of sweaty liver treats in one hand, leash leading to a pulling puppy in the other is…”Will I always have to use treats?” Sometimes I want to laugh, but not in a bad way, I just want to chuckle because I know how they feel. Over and over you reward your puppy for sitting, always ready with a treat in hand, and then, your neighbor comes over to see how the training is going and your dog won’t sit! And you think “does this treat method really work?”

There are those out there who will preach the “no treats” method. But I personally don’t think that sounds like fun at all. As my wonderful mentor Teresa said over and over “we all like a paycheck after we go to work, and a treat is a dog’s paycheck.” It is just that simple. “Sit” paycheck “down” paycheck. So where does it end? How do people who have voice controlled dogs get to the point where they don’t use treats? TIME and CONSISTENCY are the two keys I cannot stress enough. Through time and practice you will build reliability. There is no magic, it will not happen over night and it will not happen the same way for every dog. Consistency is the gift you give your pup when you reward the same way everytime, no matter how tired you are. And it will be the gift you give yourself… in time.

The process of removing the treat reward after every command is just that…a process. It’s called “fading the lure” and it happens slowly and carefully. I cannot stress enough the importance of letting go of a particular mentality that the dog “should” be able to do something without a reward. In my opinion, “should” happens long after most people expect. Often, as humans, we fail to see the difference in being able to “down” at home in the living room and being able to do it on the sidewalk down the street. We think the dog “should” be able to do something and we fail to lure and reward because of our expectation. How better we would be served by continuing the lure and reward until we are confident the dog can accomplish the command in THAT particular circumstance. Then, and only then, should we begin to fade the lure for “down” on the sidewalk.

Positive reinforcement is a long and difficult road. Since most dogs have a “will work for food” attitude, we humans can find them frustrating since we desire a demonstration of loyalty and understanding instead of pure “food motivation.” Give your dog a little room to be a dog. Allow for that expression of happiness that a good food reward brings and couple it continually with your vocal praise and “happy talk” Puppyhood passes so quickly. You will someday find yourself wishing for the difficulties it presented…maybe!