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How to Get Your Dog to Listen Without Treats!

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

“My dog only listens when she knows I have treats!”


You’re NOT alone, and this is fixable! Your pupper isn’t being a jerk- they’ve just figured things out. If you get paid for a Monday-Friday job, you don’t usually show up on Saturday, right? You know what the expectations are and follow them.


The trick is to change the game for your pup! We like to do this in a couple of ways.


1️⃣ “Sneaky Treats!” Find a way to have treats ready when your dog doesn’t see them. You might stash some in a sweatshirt pocket, have something in a wrapper (so they can’t smell it as well), have something waiting near the counter or just in the fridge, etc. Practice asking for skills (“Come” is a great one for this!) when you have a “sneaky treat,” and your dog suddenly realizes “oh, there might be a treat even if I don’t see it!”


*note: we want to reinforce often for a strong behavior. Sneaky treats will make your dog more likely to offer a behavior when they don’t see a treat- but if you regularly stop reinforcing a behavior, it’s going to get worse. So especially for behaviors like “Come,” make sure you’re still rewarding regularly even if they come without treats!


2️⃣ Break up the treat pattern. Many dogs get into “training mode” when they see a treat pouch or other signs that treats are available. But then when there’s no treat pouch…. In some cases, we may need to break that association. For example, if you want to work on recall “out of the blue,” you know that putting your treat pouch on will instantly gain you a Velcro dog buddy. Sometimes we will wear the treat pouch around (without doing any training) to help our dogs understand that it’s our cues that mean treat delivery- not the presence of the pouch!


*note: in some cases you might WANT your dog to have a strong “training mode” association with the pouch! And that’s ok, too. But if you’re having trouble with the “she only listens when I have treats,” breaking that association can be helpful.


Need some help working on this stuff with your dog? Book a private session HERE.


Looking for some good training treats? Check out some of our favorites!

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