The Proper Way to Use Food as a Training Tool
There are many misconceptions associated with using food as the reward. When used right food is a strong motivator.
- Food is not a replacement for relationship
- Food is not a replacement for play
- You must work to wean your dog off food. (Would you work for no paycheck?)
- Food is not a substitute for training and practice
- Food is not a replacement for spending time with your dog
- Food is not a substitute for harsh training practices
The command is asked, the dog complies and the reward is given. Food is used to reward an ‘action.’
The command is asked, the dog refuses, and food is shown to the dog. The dog now complies and receives the bribe.
Reward vs Punishment
You want to make sure your dog is ready before you introduce punishment. For decades we gave a command and punished the dog if it didn’t comply. The schutzhund people taught us how to play with our dogs. Play takes a dog’s performance to the next level.
A dog who enjoys performing will perform well. When they enjoy performing their performance improves. This is where rewards become important. There is no reason why you need to stop using food and toys to reward a dog.
There is a misconception that the evolution of a well trained dog is measured by the dog’s ability to be weaned off treats. Each individual dog will respond differently to food. Some dogs will never be weaned off food, while others may continue to perform for the joy of the interaction.
Play as a Reward
Those dogs who can wean themselves off food usually replace the food with play, or engagement. A good willingness to please you may be the dog’s only reward. Don’t measure your success based on whether your dog still needs treats.
Don’t Betray Your Dog’s Trust
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen is that people withhold the reward because the dog didn’t do the task correctly. The dog doesn’t know when they do the task wrong, or why it is wrong. They just know you are working together. You asked a behavior, he gave you a behavior, and you didn’t give a treat. This will erode the dog’s trust. It is better to ‘over reward’ than to risk losing your dog’s trust.