How to Train Your Dog Without Food Treats – And When To Use Food

How to Train Your Dog Without Food Treats – And When To Use Food

“Train dog without food treats”, is this even possible? Will my dog follow my command without a treat?

Training a dog with food treats is often seen as bribery and so many owners are wary of using treats in training…

This usually comes from the concern that if the dog is trained using food, it will only obey when the food is present. This is a valid concern – not because training with food is bad but because a lot of people don’t know how to phase the food out, and the dog becomes reliant on it. I actually train with food all the time and I love it! But I do see clients that struggle to wean their dog’s off the food and have the dog obey when the treat isn’t around.

Think of food treats like any tool used in training. We use it to help us to train the dog. Once the dog is trained in that skill, we no longer need it. What else counts as a tool?

How about the collar and leash – many that train without food use leash pressure.

How about your hands? Many people use their hands to physically put the dog into the position they want.

How about your house or back yard? We train in these areas before we risk letting our dog off lead in a public location. So even this is a training tool.

How about your voice? If you praise your dog for a job well done, your verbal praise is your reward tool in that situation.

All of these are valid tools to use in various situations depending on the dog, the owner and the circumstances. So don’t rule out the use of food completely. If you’re using food or any other training tool, think of it like training wheels – they help the dog learn and then come off when the dog has mastered the skill you’re training.


Why I DO Like To Use Food In Training

Like I mentioned, I do train with food often. I also use praise, touch, leash, collar, pressure and release, access to resources… You get the gist. I adapt to each dog and situation.

Food is an easy reward tool to use to teach new behaviours. You can have the dog follow the food around like a lure to move their body into the position you want (such as upwards and over their head to teach the sit position). After luring, we then reward with food only AFTER the dog has performed the skill we want. Training this way is fun for the dog and has them use their brain to figure out how to get the food rather than just being plonked into position.

So food is one tool that is a good option to teach new skills like obedience commands.

Training VS Manners

Now one thing I need to point out is that there is a difference between training a dog to DO something and having day to day manners around the home. The two definitely go hand in hand, however. You should definitely have a good foundation of obedience training to expect good manners around the home. But whether you train obedience commands with food or without, when it comes to manners around the home, you shouldn’t have to carry around cookies with you all day. And that’s where training without food is especially useful.

But I Don’t Want To Train With Food Ever At All

Ok, ok.

If you want to train without food treats at all, I encourage you to find something else that really motivates your dog that you can use as a reward through training. This can be a tug toy, a ball, a pat, praise or whatever your particular dog finds worth working for.

A reward depends on the individual dog. The dog has to want it to put in any effort for it. What a dog wants varies from dog to dog. Even if you’re using food, some dogs will work for kibble and others need something more appealing.

I don’t encourage you to train without any motivational reward at all. This means you would physically make the dog do the action and really, it’s no fun. I really believe training should be fun for both of you!

Ask yourself why you are feeling so against the use of food – is it because you believe your dog should work to please you? Are you worried about it being bribery? If you’re worried about it being a bribe, it’s all in how you use it. Remember, the top international champions in dog sports use lots of food in training but still get amazing results in the trial without a treat on them.

Thinking of rewards as a whole, think of it as payment. You may expect more of your worker (your dog) the more they learn but no one wants to work for someone just to please their boss.

Technically, there’s always some reason a dog does something other than “just to please you.” They either do it because they see something to gain from it, or they do it because the consequence of not doing it is worth avoiding.

How To Get Your Dog To Be Well Mannered Around The Home Without Food

So I think I’ve made my point. I’m a fan of using rewards in training, including food. But when it comes to manners around the house, there’s a whole lot you can achieve without food. Instead, you’re going to be using life rewards. This way, you can teach your dog that there is a rewarding benefit of listening to you in day to day life without setting up a training session or carrying around a toy or a treat.

What’s a Life Reward?

Think about all the things you do for your dog. All the things you give them, provide to them.

Let’s list them out.

  • Meals and other food
  • Water
  • Warmth
  • Shade
  • Shelter from the elements
  • Love and physical affection
  • Access to rooms of the house
  • Access to you
  • Verbal praise
  • Attention
  • Walks and outings
  • Games
  • Going outside
  • Coming inside
  • Access to the bed or other comfy furniture
  • A nice bed to sleep on of their own
  • Toys
  • Enrichment in their backyard – things to keep them busy

Look how much we give them for free! You can use just about any of these things as a reward for your dog in return for them cooperating with you.

For example – let’s say you have a dog that likes to sit on the couch with you, or on your lap. Why should a dog be able to help himself to that? In fact, the more freedom a dog gets, the more they can become bratty and disobedient.

Instead of allowing your dog to jump up onto the couch whenever he or she likes, try giving a simple command before then inviting the dog up. Make this the new rule for this privilege. Now see where else you can apply this in your day to day life with your dog.

For example:

  • Does your dog drag you through the door when leaving for a walk?
  • Barge through doorways going in and out?
  • Have food and toys laying around for whenever they feel like it?

Try adding some rules like a simple command before privileges and resources. This achieves two things:

  1. Your dog respects that you are the provider and carer, aka “the leader”
  2. You get to practice your obedience commands and your dog listening to you without setting aside large blocks of time to practice and without using food rewards all the time

So now you’ve read this far, you have homework! Look for opportunities that you can use life rewards with your dog and start asking more from your dog in return for all the things you give them.

Of course, to get a command happening before privileges and resources, your dog needs to know the command. This is where you need to teach the command separately first and then start using it in the way I just described. If your dog doesn’t know many commands, start with a simple sit and use that first. Then try adding a down command later. The more your dog knows, the more you can mix it up.

Happy training!

Want to know more about how to use this concept and see fast changes in your dog’s manners?

Sign up for free membership to My.DogMatters and get instant access to free training.

Here’s what Kellie had to say:

“Holy cow – it worked!! I decided to try one of your tips this morning. I got all three of my dogs to sit AND stay until I stepped over the threshold of our outside door. They didn’t move until I released them! That has only ever happened if I’ve held a treat out for them to see (and it’s always a contest to see who will break first). This was with only the “treat” of going outside! WOW!!

Coming inside was a bit more work, until I actually opened the door (ie showed them the reward). Then – boom – all butts stayed on the ground! And I actually had the privilege of walking in our front door without a flood of dogs underneath my feet!! 

This is amazing!! 🙂

Thank you!” 

How To Stop Your Dog From Pulling On The Lead – My Top Tips

How To Stop Your Dog From Pulling On The Lead – My Top Tips

Pulling on the leash is one of the most common issues I see when helping dog owners. Here’s a few of my top videos relating to stopping dogs from pulling on the leash.

Here’s my top 6 tips to stop leash pulling:



In the following video, I discuss more about one tool you should NOT use if you want to teach your dog not to pull on the lead:



And in this video, I talk about preventing leash pulling in puppies.



Want more value packed training videos? Make sure you join the email list below. In return, I’ll send you some quality training videos to help you achieve a well mannered dog.

How to Stop Your Puppy From Mouthing and Biting

How to Stop Your Puppy From Mouthing and Biting


It’s one of the major puppy-hood issues that people face when they get a new puppy. And while it’s normal puppy behavior this doesn’t mean that we need to accept it.

So let’s talk about how to stop puppy mouthing and biting.

But like any behavior, before we start working on it, it’s important to know why it’s happening.

So first…

WHY Do Puppies Mouth and Bite?

Rest assured, it’s rare for a puppy to be truly aggressive. Puppy biting is common and normal and does not mean that your puppy is trying to aggressively hurt you.

I do hear from concerned puppy owners, often parents, worried that the puppy is an aggressive monster because the puppy bites and growls. But it always turns out to be play.

Puppies’ mouth and bite to practice life skills like hunting, to have fun and to work their teeth and jaws. By instinct, these skills need to be practiced to set them up for later in life when they need to hunt for real. This all comes from their natural instincts dating back to when they were wild dogs and wolves.

The instinct to chase and grab prey. ie fast moving or small furry objects is also a strong one. This is why young puppies often bite children – they move quickly, pull their hands away quickly and squeal. Just like prey! The puppy thinks it’s a great game!

Which leads us to…

HOW Do I Stop My Puppy From Mouthing and Biting?

The first clue to stopping an unwanted behavior is in the WHY.

Looking back at the reason why puppies mouth and bite, can you guess what the first thing is that we need to change?

The first thing that we need to do is remove the fun game.

Every time the puppy has fun mouthing and biting, it is learning that mouthing and biting pays off.

So the first thing we need to do is take that fun option away. Every time the puppy starts to put teeth on skin, say “no,” get up, and walk away. If the puppy is chasing and grabbing at your heels, stand up and stand completely still. Once you have said, “no” once, say nothing else.

A big mistake people make is using too many words when trying to teach their puppies. So say one clear word and then show the pup what it means by standing still or leaving immediately afterwards.

For additional effect, you could quickly and quietly pop the puppy into a time-out.

TIME OUT – For a time out to work, it needs to be a small, boring area with nothing to do. If you send a child to their room and they start playing video games in there and having fun, are they going to feel like they are being punished? It is the same for puppies. If you put puppy in a big room with things to grab and play with or interesting things to look at, they will quickly be occupied with something else. A time out should also be no long than one minute as past that point, there is no additional effect or learning.

How To Train Your Kids – Be A Tree

Part of stopping the puppy from biting the kids involves also training the children. While child training is not my specialty, here is a technique I have success with:

Teach the kids to “be a tree.” This means they stop what they are doing instantly, fold their arms and stand still, not even looking at the puppy.

How to stop puppy biting

IGNORING a puppy means not even making eye contact or looking at them


You can even make this training into a game with the kids.

It’s interesting to see how quickly the puppy gives up, gets bored and leaves when the children stops all reactions and stands still.

After the puppy has given up and calmed down, calm games may resume. But everyone needs to be really consistent that all play and attention stops the moment that the puppy starts to mouth or bite.

If everyone is consistent you should see the behavior getting less and less before your eyes! Puppies are such fast learners!

I would estimate a few days to a week of this for the behavior to stop completely.

Of course, there are other methods we can try if this doesn’t work but I find that this is the best approach to start with.

You can see a video lesson of how I treat mouthing and biting in the Puppy Priorities course, along with lessons on other common puppy issues like toilet training.

You can also join our Puppy Priorities Program for only $47.

In this course, we will cover everything about:

  • What is socialisation and HOW to socialise the RIGHT way
  • How to get through toilet training with less accidents
  • How to house train your puppy to not destroy your prized possessions and furniture
  • How to crate train your puppy
  • How to start leash training your puppy
  • How to stop mouthing, biting and jumping early on

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How to Choose A Training Reward

How to Choose A Training Reward

Most people I know would not go to work if they weren’t getting paid and if they were forced to, their motivation to do a good job would be pretty low. When dogs enjoy training, they learn better and so we use rewards in training. This does not necessarily mean that we are bribing the dog or that the dog will only work for food. If it’s done correctly, this won’t be a problem. We use rewards for teaching new behaviours and then we phase them out and use only for effort and improvement on those behaviours, constantly setting the bar higher for the dog to earn a reward.

So, what is the best reward to use? I cannot tell you one single thing that makes the best reward. This is because it depends on the individual dog and what he or she finds rewarding, at that time.

Rewards can be food treats, toys or life rewards such as freedom and access to desired resources. Being let through a doorway or off the leash can be rewards. A game of fetch or tug can be used for a great intense reward if the dog enjoys that kind of game. Think of your dog’s highest value reward and use that to reward really important or challenging tasks such as a recall under distraction.

One of my dogs, Chester, loves the Frisbee so much that if I give him a meaty bone, wait for him to be getting into it and then say, “Frisbee” he will spit out the bone and come over looking for the Frisbee! This tells me that a Frisbee is very high on his list of things he likes!

I really like to use toy rewards for behaviours that are already established. Tug is an especially great reward because the dog has to be engaged with the handler to get the reward. The tugging will only happen if the handler is on the other end. Before using tug as an obedience reward though, you should have clear rules and a clear grab command and out command (let go).

When it comes to food rewards, what works best? Again it depends on what the dog likes but there are some practical considerations too. When training, you want the rewards to be timed well. A large or crunchy, chewy treat is not practical. We want the dog to be able to take it and swallow it fairly fast so that we can move on to the next reward. If you have a large chewy treat and you give it to your dog for a reward, you will then be waiting a while before your dog is finished. If the rewards are too big, your dog will also get full quickly and training will progress slowly. Soft, meaty, smelly treats work best. The dog only needs a small taste each time so use small treats that match the size of the dog. Also make sure you don’t use any foods that could make your dog sick.

When training with food, you want to have your dog hungry at the beginning, so don’t feed a meal just before. If you’ve been using food rewards, deduct the amount from the dog’s diet so that your dog doesn’t put on excess weight.

Remember to use something the dog enjoys whether it be food, pats and praise, a ball, tug toy, Frisbee or whatever else your dog loves. Above all, make sure both of you are having fun and you will get the best results!