I feel like I’m bribing my puppy all the time with treats to get her to do what I want. Is there some way to stop using the treats so much? I would like her to do things for me because she wants to, not just because I have a treat in my hand.
It’s understandable that you don’t want to use food all the time to get your puppy to do the things you want. Using treats should be something you use less and less for more and more behavior. Many people just don’t understand how to progress with using less food.
Before you can reduce the use of food, your puppy will need to understand the behavior thoroughly in many different locations. Also, keep in mind that using food rewards will make desired behaviors strong, but the behavior should come first, (without your puppy seeing the food), and then the reward happens afterwards. This is known as operant conditioning with positive reinforcement, and how clicker training is done. For more information about clicker training and other things to teach your puppy, you can visit www.clickertraining.com or www.clickersolutions.com. On these websites, you will find instructions on how to use food rewards to your advantage, and not feel like you are bribing your puppy.
Real Life Rewards
You can also use “Real Life” as your reward with an exercise called “Sit for Permission.” This is a great exercise to use with your puppy and it will form the habit of her offering sits for all kinds of things that she really wants or enjoys. The idea to get across to your puppy is that sitting is what gives her “permission” to go out the door, get out of the car, get her food bowl, or play with a toy.
This is a very simple task to teach and one that will make you feel like you have some power over the situation. All you need to do is ask your puppy to sit if she knows the word sit, before allowing your puppy to do any of the things she wants. This can include things like putting on the leash to go for a walk, or before you put her food bowl on the floor, or before a ball is thrown or even sitting at the curb before crossing the street.
You don’t need treats for this at all! The rewards become the ball, your puppy’s bowl of food or having a door opening to go on a walk!
Sitting for food bowl
Let’s look at your puppy’s food bowl as an example. It’s easy to teach your puppy that she will get fed when she stays seated. After you have your puppy’s food ready, ask your puppy to sit. Then, as long as your puppy continues to sit, you will lower the bowl toward the floor. If your puppy gets up, the bowl comes right back up again. Don’t say sit again, if your puppy gets up, just wait to see if she will offer the sit, and that’s when the bowl starts its way down to the floor again. As long as the puppy keeps sitting the bowl continues coming down until it’s on the floor. When you get all the way to the floor, give permission to your puppy by saying, “Okay.”
If you get stuck and the puppy won’t sit, put the bowl up and wait a few minutes and try again. After this break, you can ask your puppy to sit again, but resist saying it more than once. Usually the puppy will get the idea after just a couple of lower/lift actions, but, if not, she may need more practice with sitting in general.
Once your puppy understands and is offering the sit for permission, ask for a little more. In other words, raise the bar a little bit. The next time, see if your puppy can sit a little longer before you place the bowl down, and when that is perfected, as her to sit longer and also make eye contact with you.
As you can see, this is a great exercise for teaching your puppy that good things will happen when she sits, and you don’t need any food treats to get these behaviors.
This is also a good way to prevent your puppy from jumping out of cars, or rushing out of doors. Just ask you puppy to sit when you begin to open a door, and as long as her butt remains on the floor, the door continues to open. If she gets up, the door closes. Before long, you will have a puppy that sits and waits at doors until you give her permission to go out.
Nan Arthur, CDBC, CPDT, KPACTP/Karen Pryor Academy Faculty