Why does my dog only respond to treats?

(Q) I have been clicker training my puppy for a few weeks now and he will do anything for a treat, but when I try to ask for a sit when I haven’t got a treat he doesn’t always respond.

Sometimes he throws himself into a down rather than a sit, and when I withhold the click he gets frustrated and starts barking. I then go and get a treat and start again and he sits immediately. How can I wean him off treats to get him to do what I want?

(A) Training expert Elizabeth Kershaw says: You are not alone in finding the transition from food in the hand to no food difficult, and this is not just a clicker training problem. Re-start your training with your puppy, bearing in mind the following suggestions.

The problem can often arise due to the use of poor techniques. There are certain important points to remember when clicker training a new dog. It can help to hold both the food and the clicker in the same hand. Load a few treats in your palm behind the clicker and leave the delivery hand empty.

You can use either hand for the clicker and food but make sure you regularly change hands to keep your dog guessing. Make sure that you keep your hands in a neutral position, such as at waist level, and still. Click for the behaviour you wish to reward then take a piece of food in your free hand and deliver it to your dog. Do not move your hands until you have clicked. Be very disciplined about this.

Once you think that your dog understands the behaviour you are working on, place your treat box close at hand on a table, keep your hands in the same neutral position, click for the behaviour, and reach for the food from your box. When you are satisfied that your dog can cope with this, start to use random reinforcement.

Watch your dog carefully and only click and reward for the best examples of the behaviour such as the fastest, the straightest or whatever element you are working on, or simply decide that you are going to ask for two or three repetitions before clicking. You might end up only clicking for six out of 10 repetitions, and your dog begins to get used to the fact that not all attempts are good enough for a reward. He also learns that the rewards are still there if he works harder for them. However, if you are happy with a behaviour but decide not to click, use your voice to praise briefly. That way he will learn that praise can also be part of the reward system.

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