The dog trainer is in to answer your questions. Alexandra Macias, owner and operator of the Long Beach-based Alex Macias dog training, will be sitting down and answering readers' pet-related inquiries.
My dog Snoopy used to get into the car with no problem, but has recently started refusing. He looks at the treat bag very pointedly, and will only get in if I have a treat. How can I fix this?
It definitely sounds like Snoopy has become reliant on the treats. Try giving treats every few times he performs the behavior, rather than every time. This will erase his expectations, and will help him see the treat as a special reward, rather than a “paycheck.” Sporadically giving a treat will teach him that he may get a reward, or he may not. He will take the risk and perform the behavior because the chance of him getting the reward will always be there.
Think of it like this—if you were given $1,000 on a random frequency for brushing your teeth, would you still just brush your teeth twice a day? Chances are, you would brush them all throughout the day to increase your chances of receiving the money. The same principle applies to your dog and the treats. Snoopy won’t know when the treat is coming, so he will perform the behavior every time to increase his chances of receiving the reward.
Giving a treat sporadically will also help wean Snoopy off of the treats completely. Make sure you verbally praise him every time he does what you ask. This teaches him to work for your praise, as well as a treat. Gradually decrease the number of times you give a treat, so eventually you’re not giving them at all. This should be done very gradually, over several weeks.
With these tips, Snoopy should be off the treats in no time. WOOF!
Alexandra (Alex) Macias has been a certified Dog Trainer and Behavior Specialist since 2008, and is the owner of Alex Macias Dog training, a Long Beach-based dog training company. To ask Alexandra questions for a future article, leave them in the comments below, or email her firstname.lastname@example.org.