“My dog knows how to do their commands now - when can I stop carrying treats?”
Good question! Say you’ve been in the same job for a year now - you know how to do it and you are good at it. Can your boss stop giving you your paycheck yet? If not now, when? Oh - never? Well, welcome to the mind of a dog :-)
I *love* my real person job (working for a pet tech startup). But if they stop paying me,
I’d go find another job. I may for a while work for less than usual *because* I love what I do, and my love for the job keeps me around. But if I didn’t get paid anything at all? I’d move on because work is still work.
And it’s the same with dogs. After they learn their tasks, if they love their job you can change their paycheck a little - either less frequent or lower value rewards. You won’t always have to have over the top high value rewards immediately when they perform every time. But, they do need something.
Because dogs often find value in relationships, sometimes their payment can even be a relationship based payment - petting and praise and a ‘thank you’ goes a long way, especially in the mind of a spaniel! This may be a little like you doing a favor for a friend or spouse - you don’t do it for payment but you would like to be thanked and acknowledged. And if you are constantly asked to immediately stop what you are doing to do them a favor without recognition, you might start to do it begrudgingly or be slower to respond.
An appropriate “payment” for your dog will ensure they are happy to stop what they are doing to do their job, which is critical for service dogs! “Appropriate payment” will depend on your dog, their preferences, and how much they love their job. But even a dog who loves its job needs to be reinforced - a behavior that’s not reinforcing will become extinct as they will find something else to do that is more reinforcing.
So that was essentially a long winded (as usual) way of giving my two cents - never stop paying your dog, whether it be food, toys, play, or just a thank you - it’s the least you can do especially for alert dogs who stop everything multiple times a day to alert you to a medical condition!