I’ve seen a trend in some areas of Canada, the US and probably other countries as well. Many trainers refer to it as “treat free” training, while others just refer to treats as bribery, or worse yet, a gimmick?!!!
Using words like gimmick and bribery, towards one of the easiest, most reliable forms of reinforcement for dogs (and most other animals in fact!) is a lack of understanding in animal behavior. Any animal will repeat behavior that is reinforced and decrease behavior that is not, it’s all about motivation and reinforcement history.
When we talk about reinforcement, we are talking about what the animal finds reinforcing, and not what WE think they find reinforcing! This is key to being a good partner and trainer for your dog. So, if you ask your dog to sit, and when she does, you say “good girl” and pet her, but she doesn’t continue consistently when asked, it may very well be that she doesn’t find being pet (especially on the top of the head!) very reinforcing!! Many of us just assume every dog enjoys it, when in fact, it is us that find it extremely enjoyable to pet our pups!
Studies like this one have been done to test whether dogs do prefer food or petting as reinforcement. In this study, they tested wolves and dogs!
The wonderful thing about food is how simple it is to use.
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It is your dog’s pay cheque! You go to work, you get paid monetarily. Your dog does as asked (her form of work) and she gets paid with a treat of some sort, or kibble. I’m not saying you can’t move to other forms of reinforcement such as toys, or play later. But when teaching new behaviors, this is the quickest (way to deliver) and easiest way to teach them. Without a doubt, dogs are much happier being treated for behaviours we like , instead of corrected for behaviours we don’t.
So, why is it that we are poisoning the thought of treating our dogs?
Why are some trainers making food seem like a bad thing when training dogs?
If we want to call it a gimmick, then isn’t any other tool or equipment we use to train our dog’s also a gimmick? For trainers using corrections, what about prong collars or e-collars (shock collars), these must be on a dog for them to respond to owners. Dogs trained with these methods are only responding to escape a correction of some form. Wouldn’t we all rather have a dog that is doing what we ask, because they are having fun and hoping for something great when they do? I know I would.
This is a great article about using corrections in dog training:
- Here’s the great thing about food, the part that people and some trainers just haven’t learned yet! There is no bribing or gimmicks!! We simply ask for the behavior and THEN feed. This is key. We don’t SHOW the food (which could be considered a bribe perhaps) and ask the dog for a behavior. That “show me the money” form of treat training/positive training can get a dog to start waiting to see the food prior to responding to a cue, but that is simply a handler error that is easy to fix.
- Don’t we want our dogs to be happy and NOT stressed when we train? Don’t we have dogs to add enrichment to our lives? Training should be fun! One of the best books I’ve ever read is by Karen Pryor called Don’t Shoot The Dog. Karen Pryor was a marine mammal trainer originally and now runs one of the top dog training schools in the world, the Karen Pryor Academy, and yes, one of the primary forms of reinforcement we use is at the Academy is food!
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About Lisa Davies:
Lisa Davies (KPA-CTP, CDBC, CTC) has been training for 17 years. She graduated from the Academy for Dog Trainers, the Harvard of Dog Training Programs, and is also a certified Behaviour Consultant, specializing in aggression, including dog to human. She has a huge passion for helping rescues become more adoptable through training and is an BC SPCA Animalkind Accredited Trainer.
She shares her home with her husband, two Terriers, a Pointer and a Chihuahua, two goats, a miniature horse and two bunnies.
Contact Lisa at:
Pawsitively Canine Dog Training Services