We are always on the lookout for the most successful and innovative trainers, and one of our favorites is Or Nessim of K9 Pack Training in SoCal. A former dog handler in the Israeli Army, Or is highly personal and focused on positive reinforcement. He trains for everything from pet obedience and behavioral modification, to dog sport activities and service dog training.
The most frequently asked question this month is, “How can I get my dog to focus on me and not the treat?”
I would like to rephrase the question so my answer will make more sense: “How can I make my dog feel rewarded without focusing on the treat?”
An issue many dog owners struggle with is having their dog engage with them or be enthusiastic to interact when treats are not present. It requires time, repetition, and dedication to achieve this.
In reality, there will be many times that you'll need your dog to sit, stay, or come and won't have a treat on hand, so getting them to react without one is very important!
I begin by incorporating a positive tone while praising the dog. This positive tone needs to be one that he/she is familiar with and with a phrase that he/she is familiar with such as “good boy/girl.” Only after praising the dog, can you make the hand motion of getting the treat. By reaching for your treat after praising the dog, this will create a link between that positive tone and the phrase and the act of payment in the mind of the dog.
With the use of practice and repetition, the dog will associate “good boy” with an anticipation to the reward/payment causing him to be excited and engaged each time. It is extremely important that in the initial phases of the training, the dog is paid with the reward immediately after praising or else it will disrupt his progress in understanding that praising results in a reward.
Additionally, I recommend that the training take place in an environment that the dog is familiar with so that his full attention will be on you and not the environment around him.
After five to seven sessions that are successful, you can begin to add a light distraction with a higher degree of praise. With time, distractions can be increased and the dog will be attentive to you and you will have achieved becoming more valued than the distractions or the treat.