How do you reward a dog without treats?
Rewarding your dog is an extremely important part of the training cycle. It’s not just about using rewards to train a dog to sit or stay, but also to praise a dog for good behaviour such as during house training or being sociable with other dogs. This is called positive reinforcement.
Food based treats are often the first thing that dog owners turn to when trying to train their pet with positive reinforcement. Treats can certainly be very effective in motivating your dog if they are food oriented, but they can also cause significant problems if this is the only method you use. Not only can it cause weight gain, it can also work out expensive in the long run, and you may not always have treats to hand when you need them!
This is where it’s essential to have other tricks up your sleeve. There are many ways to reward a dog with positive reinforcement, without giving them a treat. You just need to find out what works for you and your dog. In fact some dogs would actually prefer a different reward to a treat, like a toy for example!
Let’s explore the options in a little more detail.
So, how do you reward a dog without treats?
These are just a few examples of ways that you can reward your dog without reaching for the treat jar. Feel free to be a little creative and adapt these methods to make them work best for you and your pup.
Dogs are extremely affectionate animals, most of them love to be petted! Whether it’s rubbing their belly or scratching behind their ears, find what your dog loves most and reward them with this when they’ve shown you good behaviour.
Give them their favourite toy
Is there one toy your dog just loves? A squeaky toy, or maybe even an old football? When training, hide one of their favourite toys behind your back and surprise them with it when they sit, stay, or bark.
Playing with them
Get playful with your dog! Whether it’s play wrestling with them or throwing them a ball, most dogs love to play with their owners. Playtime is a great reward, not only for the dog, but it’s also got to be one of the more fun ways to interact with your dog after good behaviour.
Use your happy voice
Dogs are intelligent animals, so they’re able to recognise when they’re being praised verbally. You could start by giving your dog a treat and saying ‘good dog’ every time they do something you’re happy with. Eventually they will come to understand that when you say ‘good dog’ you’re praising them, even when it isn’t accompanied by a treat.
It can really be as simple as giving your dog a bit of attention, even just eye contact, when they’re behaving. Very crucially, if your dog starts being a bit naughty, for example jumping up at you, instead of shouting just ignore them until they stop. You can then reward them with your attention when they begin to behave. Telling a dog off can have the negative effect of giving the dog more attention when they’re doing something naughty, which can therefore encourage the dog to repeat the bad behaviour.
Want to know more about how to reward a dog for good behaviour? Take a look at this guide to positively rewarding your dog.
So when should you stop training your dog with treats? If you’re already liberally giving out the treats in training, it’s not too late to reverse it. You can start to phase out food rewards with the alternatives listed above. If you’re at the start of your training journey, however, why not start using a combination of rewards from the outset? That way you can vary rewards based on situation and circumstance.
What are the benefits of rewarding your dog without treats?
Stronger relationship. Focusing on other rewards allows you to build a stronger bond with your dog. Instead of them looking for the treat bag after they’ve done something good, they’ll turn to you for fuss and attention.
Less weight gain. Food-based rewards can of course cause weight gain if used frequently in training. Using treats in combination with other forms will prevent this. You can even encourage your dog to be more active with the rewards you give, by throwing a ball or playing with them for example!
Less expensive. Treats have to be either bought or homemade, which may become quite costly, whereas giving your dog fuss is completely free!
More respect. Rather than viewing you as the keeper of treats, training with various forms demands more respect from your dog.
Better engagement. Your dog will be more engaged and responsive during training if you use different forms of praise.
So does this mean you shouldn’t train your dog with treats? Of course not! Treats are a very effective way of training your dog. More often than not you’ll get a very positive response from your pet. However, it’s a good idea to use a combination of treat based rewards and non treat-based rewards to get the most effective results.
You should now be ready to get training your dog with a wide variety of rewards! Remember to always reward good behaviour, and ignore the bad; it’s the most effective and kindest way of training your dog. If you’re interested in more top tips, you can sign up to our monthly newsletter below!