Sometimes owners who use treats to train their dogs accidentally teach their dog to only pay attention and respond to cues when they are visibly holding treats. It can be an easy trap to fall into – the owner is generous when they have treats on hand, but when the treat bag is gone, they end up giving the dog no reward at all. The dog picks up on the pattern and learns “no treat visible = no point in responding.”
There are a few ways to fix this problem. One is to teach the dog that although the treats are not visible, they will, in fact, appear after he performs!
Start out at home…
The first step is to have students place their treats on a table or counter, so that the treats are easy for them to get to, but not on their body. The treats should NOT be accessible to their dog!
Tell them to keep him on leash if he is big enough to jump on the counter and help himself.
Next they should move a few feet away from the treats and wait for their dog to perform ANY behavior that they like – looking at them is a great first step. As soon as he does, they should say “let’s get treats!” and run over to the counter together, and reward their dog. Then move away and repeat the process. When their dog is getting good at focusing on them, they can ask him to perform his more advanced tricks before running to the treats, such as rolling over or heeling for a few steps.
Now you want them to teach their dog that the game is ALWAYS afoot.
Move to the Yard — and then anywhere else!
In their house they should ask their dog to perform a trick, then run over to where they store the treats and reward him. Before they go into their yard, they should hide a treat in a tree. When he comes out they can ask him to perform a trick and run to the tree together!
They can keep even keep stashes of treats in various places in the house/yard (in tiny plastic containers, to keep them from spoiling or other critters getting at them), so that their dog never knows where that reward will come from.
Now you have broken the pattern of “no treat visible = no point in responding!” In fact, their dog probably enjoys the game of running to the treats even more than when the treat is simply handed to him!