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The Benefits of Treat-Free Training for Dogs

Dog training is an essential part of responsible pet ownership, helping to ensure a well-behaved and happy companion. Whilst treats have long been used as a primary motivator in training, there is an alternative approach that has a proven success rate — treat-free training, yes you read that correctly "treat-free".

In this blog, we will explore the benefits of this method and why it should be considered.

The Benefits of Treat-Free Training for Dogs - Symbiotics Approach blog

BUILDING A STRONGER BOND Treat-free training encourages dogs to focus on their human companions rather than solely relying on food rewards. By using positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play, and physical affection, dogs learn to connect with their owners on a deeper level. This strengthens the bond and fosters a more trusting and cooperative relationship.


While treats can be effective in the short term, treat-free training focuses on teaching dogs to understand commands and behaviours without the expectation of immediate rewards. This helps them grasp the desired actions on a cognitive level, leading to more reliable and long-lasting results. Dogs trained without treats are more likely to respond consistently, even in distracting or challenging situations. They also do not associate all food that humans touch as being theirs.

ENCOURAGING INTRINSIC MOTIVATION Treats, whilst often used, can override a dog's natural motivation to learn and please their human companion. Treat-free training allows dogs to tap into their intrinsic drive to please and be rewarded by their owner's praise and attention. This promotes self-motivation, making training sessions more enjoyable and effective for both dog and owner.


Treat-free training opens doors to a wider range of training techniques. Touch and affection are the highest reward that you can give your dog, but treat-free training also supports the use of various other positive reinforcements such as toys, games, and environmental rewards. By exploring different motivators, owners can tailor their training approach to their dog's individual preferences and needs, making the training experience more engaging and enjoyable.


Over-reliance on treats can create a dog that only responds when food is present. The treat reward frequently has to be changed to become more appealing to keep the dog interested, and some dogs just don’t like treats, or are allergic to many treats. Treat-free training helps break this dependency, leading to a dog that listens and obeys regardless of the presence of treats. This ultimately fosters a more reliable and well-behaved companion in everyday situations, both at home and in public.


Many owners unwittingly overfeed their dogs when treat training. We have all seen the promotional videos where a person training a dog has a large bag of treats on their belt. This is often the equivalent of a day’s worth of food and yet the dog is still given its usual meals increasing its daily consumption to way above what it needs. In the UK, more and more dogs are presenting illnesses and long-term avoidable conditions directly associated with obesity and at the time of writing this, 40% of dogs in the UK are reported to be obese. The nutritional value of the most popular treats that are available is extremely low, as poor ingredients and over-processing to make the treats appealing to humans to buy, destroys the nutritional value of any raw ingredient initially used.


How many of us have gone to put our hand in our pocket for something whilst out and suddenly found ourselves the main attention of an unknown four-legged friend sitting in front of us looking very eager to know what is in our hand and even sometimes mugging us by poking in our pockets, or bags, looking for the expectant treat. Although this behaviour can be amusing, for those who are frightened of dogs, children carrying sweets, or anyone wearing their best attire it is extremely annoying and frankly just bad manners. How many people teach their children to run up to strangers demanding a treat? Hopefully none!

CONCLUSION Treat-free training offers a refreshing and rewarding approach to dog training. By focusing on building a strong bond, promoting long-term learning, encouraging intrinsic motivation, allowing for versatile training techniques, and reducing treat dependency, this method provides numerous mental and physical benefits for both the dog and the owner and prevent unwanted future behaviours associate with food and its source. So, why not explore the world of treat-free training and unlock the full potential of your four-legged companion?


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