When you first start to clicker train you work with a high rate of reinforcement. This means that for every time your dog does what you want, you click and then treat him. You do this til your dog knows what is expected of him with a simple word. However, most people seem to struggle with how to wean off the treats/clicker or even when to wean them off.
When do you wean off the treats/clicker? Well, you could test your dog. Do a short session of 10 sits. If your dog sits when you say the cue once every single time, then you can stop using the clicker and start weaning off the treats. If your dog only sits 5 times when you say the cue once, then your dog needs more practice. That is ok. I think most people will judge their own dogs progress against someone else. This is training sabotage. You and your dog are not the same as your friend and her dog. Different dog, different handler, different scenario. Never compare yourself against other people and their dogs. Only compare yourself against what your dog could do last week vs this week. That way you don’t accidentally wean your dog off the treats too soon because of where you feel he should be in training instead of where he is at in training.
How do you wean off the treats? Well, the clicker can just be omitted completely. If your dog is ready to be weaned then clearly he knows why he is getting the treat. To wean off the treats you will need to be random. Think slot machine effect. Instead of giving your dog a treat for every 3rd sit, give your dog a treat for the 4th sit, then the 2nd sit, then the 1st sit, then the 8th sit, then the 6th sit. Keep him guessing. Never show your dog the treat in your hand. Keep the treats hidden so he can’t predict when he is going to get rewarded.
Another thing you can do is integrate their new skills in their day to day life. For example, ask your dog to do a down-stay at the top of the stairs while you go down, ask your dog to leave it when you feed him, ask for a sit-stay at the door or before you play a game with him. Doing this will mean that his reward is now being with you at the bottom of the stairs and praise, going through an open door or playing a game with you etc. Use the environment and your dogs’ favorite things to help with the wean off process.
Take the time to make sure your dog is really ready to start the weaning process then follow these guidelines. Your dog will be sure to surprise you!