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This is the second in a series on using positive reinforcement with food treats to train your dog. It is brought to you by AKC GoodDog! Helpline trainer Breanne Long. The AKC GoodDog! Helpline provides seven-day-a-week telephone support from experienced dog trainers. 

Does your dog seem to forget even the most basic commands if there isn't a treat in your hand? 

This is a common problem many dog owners face. Reward-based training is the fastest and most reliable way to put a behavior on cue (i.e. your dog sits with you say “sit”). However, there is an important step that many dog owners miss when training with rewards – fading the lure.

For example, when teaching your dog to sit you hold a treat and move your hand back over your dog’s head as a lure until he sits to keep the treat in his line of sight. This motion can be turned into a hand signal and paired with the cue word “sit.”
Sit with treat and hand signal

As soon as your dog will follow the hand signal and/or verbal cue, you should put the treat down! This is called fading the lure. You will still reward your dog for following your cue, but you don't need to (and shouldn't!) always practice with that reward in your hand. 
Sit with hand signal, but no food

Don't worry if you've already taught your dog to sit only when you have a treat in your hand. You can still fade the lure; it just may take a little more patience. Try leaving a cookie in your pocket or on a nearby counter while you ask your dog to sit. Once he sits, verbally praise him and quickly feed the treat reward. 

Once your dog has mastered this, you can challenge him by asking him to sit anywhere in the house or yard. When he compiles, verbally praise him and go get a treat reward together.
Staying for food bowl

Soon your dog will do as you ask regardless of whether or not you are holding a treat!

Stay tuned for Part 3 in the reward series!

To get individualized advice for training your dog, enroll in the AKC GoodDog! Helpline. Experienced trainers are available seven days a week to take your calls and answer your training questions:
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