Nicole from iFetch has two ways to phase out treats as rewards.

Training your pet can be so much fun, but is your pet getting too many treats? If you’re worried about your dog’s weight, consider switching over to a healthier snack as treats, or phasing out treats entirely. “But how?”, you ask. We’ve got you covered.

Believe it or not, many dogs love working for bits of healthy foods, like fruits or veggies. While your pet may not like everything on this list, there’s a wide variety to try until you find a few they prefer. I suggest alternating between the healthy options and their regular treats. It’s like the lottery… they don’t know what they are going to get as a reward, but that can be exciting. Also, with this method, you can save your highest value training treats (their very most favorites) for the more difficult sessions or for rewarding those times when they’ve earned a really special reward.

Healthy veggie/fruit suggestions:

  • Blueberries
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet potato
  • Pumpkin
  • Apples
  • Green beans
  • Cantaloupe
  • Bananas (great for a treat, but due to their high sugar contest should not be part of the regular diet)
  • Carrots
  • Mango
  • Pineapple
  • Raspberries

If you have a picky dog that isn’t thrilled about healthy snacks, try reducing the number of times per session that you reward with a treat. They’ll have to work a little harder, but you’ll be saving them calories.

When training a skill that your dog already knows – we’ll use ‘sit’ as an example – start mixing it up so your dog’s reward bounces between verbal praise and edible treats. Slowly add in more behaviors with verbal praise instead of treats. This is a gradual process. We don’t recommend going straight to just praise with no treat, as your dog may think they are doing something wrong when they don’t earn their treat. However, some dogs thrive on verbal praise and affection. You know your dog best. If praise is their “thing”, you have found a perfect way to reduce their treat consumption.

Here’s an example of using praise to start phasing out treats:

  1. Ask for a sit.
  2. If you get a solid sit, say ‘Good boy! or ‘Good girl!’’ and give a treat. Then release your dog.
  3. Ask for a sit again.
  4. If you get a solid sit, say ‘Good boy!’ in a happy, enthusiastic tone, but don’t offer a treat. Then release your dog.
  5. Now on the next sit, give a treat.
  6. Slowly mix it up so it’s not a pattern – rep #1 gets a treat, reps #2-3, no treat, rep #4 gets a treat. You want it to seem random so your dog can’t predict treats vs. praise.
  7. In no time at all, you’ll see your pup is still excited to work and train, but he’ll be eating fewer treats, which will also help keep him motivated.

When you’re asking a new requirement to a skill, such as adding distance or duration, like holding a sit longer than normal, or adding a stay command, always be sure to reward these bigger steps with a treat. Your dog will appreciate it and he’ll be motivated to make that extra effort for you.

Of course, getting more exercise is an option for maintaining a healthy weight for your dog. We love to see dogs getting exercise with our iFetch and iFetch Too ball launchers. (It’s great indoor fun in the upcoming winter months as well.) If your dog isn’t the overly athletic type, try the iFetch Frenzy brain game. The ball rolls – it doesn’t launch – with the Frenzy, so your pup won’t have to run across the room to get back to the action. We’re also about to launch our new iDig digging toy this holiday season. So, if your dog is not a fetcher but loves to dig in the couch cushions, try the iDig. Digging is great exercise too.

As you know, training is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Try all (or a combo) of these methods and see what works best for you and your pet. You can do it. Although it’s easy to give into those puppy dog eyes, remember that your pet’s health is important, and your dog’s weight is an important part of their overall health. Making these few adjustments to help your dog maintain their weight will help them lead longer, happier lives. And who doesn’t want to love on their pup a little more anyway? xoxo

Happy training!

Nicole Ellis, iFetch Lead Trainer

Nicole Ellis

About Nicole Ellis

Nicole Ellis is a celebrity dog trainer, American Kennel Club CGC evaluator and APDT trainer, based in Los Angeles. Nicole has trained everything from bears to tigers, as well as household dogs and cats. Her dog, Maggie, was adopted from a city shelter and now appears in films and commercials, knows over 100 commands, and has her own fan club.

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