When is the best time to wean your dog off of Training Treats? NEVER, at least not completely, but you should lower the ratio of treats to tricks in 2-3 months after they have mastered the basics. Have them do multiple behaviors for one treat, then increase to two, then three and so on over time. Then progress to entire sessions without treats, but next time, reward them again. Make it fun and keep your pup guessing.
While it’s possible to get to a point to have your pup perform without ever getting a treat, I believe if he/she gets one every once and a while, they are much more engaged and it’s simply more rewarding. The challenge is to develop a relationship with your pup that’s strong enough built on trust and positive reinforcement, that they will always want to perform or “Play”, and they think it’s a fun game. A puppy’s whole existence is defined by what’s fun, what’s not fun, and what’s necessary (play, eat, poop, pee, repeat…)
The most important aspect of weaning a dog off training treats is building a relationship of trust through consistency and positive reinforcement. Once the basics such as stay, come, sit, down, shake, heel, and any other behavior you want to teach your new family member, the process of weaning the new puppy down from a treat for every trick can start. We’ve found that this can be started within 2- 3 months of mastering the basics. Going cold turkey won’t work, and if you wait too long, more than 3-4 months, the weaning process will become more difficult; Not impossible, it will just take longer.
Use High Value low cost treats
Most Dogs absolutely love plain boiled chicken, or fully cooked hot dogs broken off into very small pieces. The other good thing about these types of treats is that they are inexpensive, and the ratio of tricks to treats early on in the training process is very high, more than 1:1
Always Be Positive and Reward the Desired Behavior
This is not an article on specifically how to train sit, stay, heel, come, roll-over, etc, however, no matter what skill you are teaching, always remain patient, positive, and resist the urge to get frustrated. They want nothing more than to please you and they are trying as hard as they can to understand what you want.
Take the time to educate yourself thoroughly on great techniques to train each behavior and start off rewarding very generously with both food lures and praise. Your pup needs to think of this as playtime, not work. We have become fans of Zach George, his training techniques are fantastic, and his training series is completely free, here’s a link to one of his videos – Take the time to watch his series and subscribe to his channel!
I strongly recommend crate training your new puppy. This is mutually beneficial for you and the dog. It will save you hundreds of dollars by avoiding damaged tables, couches, shoes, and anything else your little one will want to chew when you are not around, especially at nighttime. It’s also the best way to keep your unattended puppy safe. As much as you puppy-proof your house, these little guys are curious and will undoubtedly get into something they shouldn’t!
A properly crate-trained pup is a wonderful thing. This is a behavior that I think you should reward with treats forever. Every time (well almost every time) you have your dog go into the crate on command, give them a treat. We leave a bag treats on the table next to her crate. They are small, freeze-dried treats, and our Corgi gets one or two every time she goes into her create on command. This has become her safe space. She is so used to her crate, that she routinely lays in there with the door open during the days, and in no way does she consider it a punishment. She’s nearly 3 years old and we have developed a consistent routine to give her a treat every night when she goes to bed and every time she goes into the crate when we leave the house.
Develop a Routine
A properly Crate trained dog is also a great training aid. When we come home from being out, the pup is rested and ready to play. This is a perfect time to train. Even when you are home, have your pup take a nap in her crate until YOU are ready for “play time” or training time for humans.
Vary the environment during training
When you start a training session in different locations, you are training your dog to pay attention to you, not the surroundings. Take your dog out in your backyard, train them inside, take a walk to a park, try to find places where there are distractions, then use food rewards to have them focus on you and what you are training.
Lower the ratio
After about 2 months of generous treat rewards, and consistency has been attained, you can begin to phase out treats and food lures. As I said earlier, I don’t think you should phase out treat rewards completely forever.
I would transition to a prepackaged freeze-dried treat so you have them on hand all the time and don’t have to prepare them like chicken or hot dogs.
Initially, when you started training your dog with treats, you rewarded for every behavior, now drop this ratio. Start out by having your dog do 2 tricks for one treat, then 3, then 4 and so on. Ultimately, do a session without treating, then 2 sessions, but always come back on subsequent sessions and reward with treats and praise to keep them happy to perform (play) for you…
Good Luck and Happy Training!