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When Can I Stop Giving Treats To My Dog?

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

When Can I stop Giving my dog treats?
When Can I stop Giving my dog treats?

Another question that I get asked all the time from owners is ‘When can I stop giving treats?’

My answer is always never!! You will not stop giving treats, EVER!

I do genuinely believe that some people are just asking the question because they don’t know if stopping treats is even a thing but I do think most of the time people ask because they either don’t want to be carrying treats all the time, they are worried that their dog is going to get fat or they simply think that their dog should just do what they want because they’ve asked. I like to reply with ‘How long would you work for free?"

So why do we use treats in the first place? Food increases the level of dopamine in the dog's brain, Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. Studies have shown that dogs don’t want petting and fuss as much as they prefer a primary reinforcer (food). Scientists also found that if you want a dog to try harder, learn faster, and work for reward then you need to release dopamine

A dog's behaviour is shaped by consequences, they repeat or do not repeat the behaviour based on the resulting consequence of the behaviour. If the dog offers something to you and you reward that behaviour with a treat then that behaviour is more likely to be repeated in the future. In order to create a strong behaviour and a dog who follows through with a cue, you must have a strong reinforcement history.

If we were going to get geeky then we could talk about schedules of reinforcement and how we can apply that to dog training. When training a dog for a new behaviour you will use a continuous schedule of reinforcement meaning you will reward every correct repetition with a treat. Once the behaviour is becoming reliable in every environment then you can switch to a different schedule of reinforcement.

So after you’ve built up a really strong behaviour and response to a cue you can switch to a variable schedule of reinforcement, basically meaning the dog will be rewarded for the behaviour but it can be totally random, think of this like a slot machine at a casino, it will pay out but you don’t know when.

I switch often between schedules with my dog Luna, if I notice that a certain behaviour is getting a bit weak then I will go back to rewarding pretty much every correct response for a bit of time until I see the behaviour being offered more reliably.

It’s important to set your dog up for success, so please don’t be in a rush to fade out the treats. You need to build a strong foundation for all cues before expecting your dog to be able to perform without a food treat.

Also, it's not hard to have a stocked-up treat pouch hanging right next to the dog's collar and lead.

Happy Training!

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