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'Forget the carrot- just hand me the stick'- Is it wrong to use food in dog training?

Posted on November 23, 2015 at 3:00 PM

Its obvious to anyone looking for tips on how to train their dog on the internet that there are infinite numbers of trainers and infinite numbers of methods available, but when doing research it quickly becomes clear that there are two major groups of trainers; those who use food and those who don't. Scanning through different trainer's websites, you will often see promotions stating 'We train (or teach you how to train) your dog without using food' and talk about food meaning bribery, as though training with food is something which should be avoided at all costs. They make no distinction between bribing dogs and rewarding dogs, as though dogs trained using food are not actually trained at all.


To some people, using food as a reward conjurers up images of the dog who wont sit until a biscuit is waved in front of his nose, or people in training classes carrying large bags of chopped up hot dogs, and desperately shovelling the food down their dog's throats in order to stop them barking at other dogs, meanwhile spilling it everywhere as other owners try to stop their dogs snuffling along the floor to pick it up.


But is there a place for food in dog training? I strongly believe so.


Food 'The primary motivator'


In dog training terms, food is what we call a primary motivator. This means that dogs naturally see food as something which is rewarding. While some dogs will naturally have higher food drive than others, meaning that some dogs are more motivated by food than others, this is true and universal for all dogs. They all need food to survive.


The difference between bribing and rewarding


So what is the difference between bribing and rewarding a dog? The difference is key; bribery occurs when the food is produced in order to encourage the dog to produce a behaviour, reward happens after the desired behaviour has been presented.


The benefits of food rewards


There are many benefits of using food as a reward, far too many to list here! 'Learn to Earn' is a resource control program which utilizes the dog's regular food and teaches them to value people and look to work with them to get what they desire. When I am training dogs I usually always start with food. The first reason is that, as detailed above, food is primary motivator and most dogs will value food; dogs who I have no bond with will quickly begin to trust me by using their food. The second reason is that one of the ways dogs learn is through repetition, and food as a reward allows for many repetitions, whereas with a toy reward the process is slower as the dog must first enjoy the toy and then give the toy back in order to repeat. Toys can be brought in to replace food further down the line, just because you have started training using food, doesn't mean you have to forever.


Food vs other rewards


If you are going to use reward based training, you must find what is rewarding for the dog, choosing not to rule out practical options for whatever the dog finds rewarding. Whether that is food, toys, praise or physical affection, different rewards, when used affectively, can be used to produce amazing results within pet training, competition training or service dog training.

Categories: Training Tutorials