The Importance of Phasing Out Treats

Phasing out lures and rewards (food treats usually) is the step towards making your commands useful in daily life. Real-life situations that require prompt obedience commands don’t often come when you have a handful of treats. You will soon find that you need your dog to “Sit” or “Come” in highly distracting scenarios.

In the Canine Good Citizen test handlers are not allowed to use treats, toys, or other training tools to help their dogs pass the test. Your dog will need to exceed the level of training with treats to become a therapy dog.

Unfortunately, many training classes and books leave out this vital step. Others fail to explain how to accomplish phasing out treats. This leaves many owners with “food-reliable dogs.” These are dogs who are only responsive and reliable when their owner has food in their hands. At any other time, these dogs are disobedient, distracted, unreliable, and possibly in danger. The “food-reliable dog” is what we want to avoid by phasing out lures and rewards.

For each basic command discussed here, we will give instructional examples to show you how to phase out the need for treats. This Phasing Out is going to take time and dedication. It will make all your other training worthwhile in your daily life and the career of a Therapy Dog.

To help your dog along in her journey to become reliable in the face of distractions, plan to build up her abilities in small steps (baby-steps for puppies). When training with a new distraction, start by using a high-value treat, such as real chicken or freeze-dried liver treats. Once your dog is responding consistently to commands around that distraction, begin to phase out the treat. You can do this by moving to offer a low-value treat, maybe blueberries or kibble, and then by giving life-rewards (playtime, greetings, sniffing time, resuming a walk, etc.).


How to Phase Out Lures and Rewards for Basic Commands

To phase out using treats for Nova’s training, her owner will start handing them out less frequently. Instead of getting a treat for every Sit, Down, Stay or Come, Nova will earn a treat for every other command. Soon she will repeat the commands in strings of three, four, or five times to receive her treat.

To increase the difficulty further, Nova’s owner will start asking her to Sit without giving a hand signal. If Nova doesn’t sit immediately, the command will be reinforced with a hand signal. As a rule, Nova’s owner never repeats her command more than once so that Nova has the best chance of learning to obey at the first command. When Nova can perform the Sit without a hand signal, she will be ready for the next two challenges.

Next Nova learns strings of commands such as Sit-Down-Sit, Down-Sit-Down, and Come-Sit-Come. She is now performing three-position commands in a row before earning a treat.

Finally, Nova’s owner begins to randomly choose moments throughout the day to call Nova’s attention and ask her to perform a basic command or two. Sometimes Nova is surprised with a hidden treat for these random exercises. Other times Nova receives lavish praise or a game of fetch as her reward. She is finally learning to apply her willing obedience to all times and situations and to accept different forms of rewards.

Learn more about how to phase out treats with Simpawtico Dog Training and professional trainer Ian Stone.


 Fade Lures, Phaseout Treats – Get Your Dog to Listen!