When Can I Stop Using These Treats, Training Collars, and/or Anti-Pull Harnesses?

When Can I Stop Using These Treats, Training Collars, and/or Anti-Pull Harnesses?

Guys, we need to talk about crutches.

We are going to put aside personal feelings about various training tools and methods for this blog and talk solely about people getting “stuck” in the first step of the training phase, no matter the method or tool used to get there.

I very rarely think about getting my dogs away from treats or toys during training anymore. So, sometimes when clients ask me about this, I can have some difficulty understanding why they are concerned because I know that dogs work for many things beyond treats and I can harness those things to use to my advantage.

Many of these people have been using other “crutches” for years. It has always surprised me that people only ask when they can get rid of treats, but if I was selling them training collars or anti-pull harnesses, they would never ask me when they could get rid of it, which is odd to me because you are still stuck in the first stage of training regardless.

I use personal play with me, interaction with the environment, and even some of their favorite tricks to keep behaviors alive and well. There isn’t an issue with using treats - but there is an issue with only practicing when your dog knows you have treats available on your person and that is the only time they get rewarded.

This issue is the issue with ALL training tools - not just treats.

Dogs are effective. Dogs are smart. They will learn that you cannot correct them if they don’t have that training collar on. They will learn that they do not get paid if you don’t smell like treats. They will outsmart you.

I am seeing more and more often that trainers are not preparing people for removal of these training tools and they aren’t preparing them for real world situations because of it. Most people are stuck at the first stage of training for years and cannot get out of it. So, they are naturally worried they will not see any progress beyond the first step with other methods as well.

A dog that expects treats for every rep will soon become a frustrated dog when we mistakenly run out of treats during a session. A dog on a prong collar will start to form a punishment callous, if it is used continuously and that will render the collar useless for training.

However, we have seen these tools “get” the behavior we want for us once and we desperately cling to the ineffective ways that previously worked because well, they worked at one point.

For our dogs’ sakes, we need to start considering how to get out the first step of the training phase, but then we need to quickly move into using smarter ways to maintain behaviors. There has to be a willingness from the human to change what we are doing if it isn’t working and to plan ahead to keep the dog on track to continue learning.

I start teaching dog to accept other forms of reinforcement quite quickly during my training plans because I want to train with dogs that accept various types of food rewards, play rewards, and environmental rewards. Premack’s principle and proofing are quite present in my training plans because of this desire to create strong behaviors that are less likely to disappear under various circumstances. I heavily focus on problem solving with puppies and dogs new to training as well, because down the road, that makes my life a whole lot easier.

We need to start asking ourselves how do we get to the next stage of the training phase and plan ahead. This means challenging ourselves and our dogs, having organized thoughts during training, and not expecting any training tool to do all the work for us overnight.

Lauren Tsao