Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Taking the Food out of Training

At some point or another if you have trained using food or treats you need to fade them out. I usually have clients ask me about this when they have a show or a PALS test coming up. Here's some key tips on how to keep your dog listening even without the good stuff in hand! 

> Use a variable reinforcement schedule so your dog never knows what will produce a food reward. With young dogs or beginners you'll need to reward more often and then slowly make them work harder. 
> Keep food or treats out of sight when training and only pull them out AFTER the dog has done what you asked. 
> Use alternate rewards! Toys, praise, petting, play, etc are all great reinforcers too. The more you use other rewards the easier it is to put the food away. 
> Practice in different locations so your dog gets use to all sorts of distractions. Remember in new places you'll need to go back a few steps to let your dog adjust. 
> Keep your dog guessing. If he/she doesn't know when a reward is coming he/she'll actually work harder in the long run to please. 
> Continue to practice with food on occasion so your dog stays motivated especially for harder skills like coming when called or loose leash walking. 

Every dog works at a different pace so don't get discouraged. A good way to start fading out food is to join a group class and ask your trainer to help you out. This often one of the harder parts of training and having a guide who knows when/how is very helpful. 

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