Food, Rewards, and Dog Training
Many people don’t understand the connection that dogs have to rewards, and it can get rather frustrating. Thinking your dog simply lives to make you happy is a natural thing. They are, after all, your pet that idolizes you, right? The simple truth is, dogs have no such thoughts. What they are thinking when you ask them to do something is much like what runs through our heads…”What will I get for doing this and is it worth it?” If you reward good behavior, then you will quickly see that the behavior is much more likely to happen again. Why would they want to do something for nothing? The key is to find what the dog truly covets, and learn to use that smartly in your training process.
How does food play into dog training?
The key here is using food properly. If you use it as a reward, then you are playing on the dog’s natural instincts of what is good. If you use it to bribe, then you are chancing creating a dog that will only mind when they have food to make them. Food is a reward, but so is praise, love, petting, playing and many other things. Mixing it up is one good way to ensure that food does not become a problem. Your dog will appreciate some things more than others, so he will respond better to certain stimuli. Food is generally at the top of the list because it is something a dog is born chasing. Other things can become like that as well with persistence.
What is the difference between bribing your dog or rewarding your dog?
This is simple because it is just like in real life with humans. If you have to produce a new video game to get your son to clean his room, then you are bribing him. If you give him a video game because he cleaned his room, then you are rewarding him. See the difference? The same is true for dogs. If you ask him to do something and he does it, then rewarding him with food is good. If you show him food to get him to do something, then that creates problems.
So, how do I keep from bribing him?
Bribing your dog is tempting, but you do not want to give in here. The easiest way to ensure that the dog will not work you into a bribe is to vary your treat giving. Sometimes give him love and hugs and praise as a reward and sometimes give him food treats. You may have to show him treats to get his initial compliance, but begin to phase that out as you go. Over time, he will understand that the treat comes sometimes, but always after he performs the behavior. This is how you get compliance even when treats are unavailable.
Another key is to make certain your dog is paying attention during your instructions. Many dogs don’t pick up certain behaviors because the owners are not paying attention to what they are doing. If the dog is not looking at you, he or she is likely not paying any mind to what you are saying. Have him look at you and then deliver the command. The dog will pick things up much easier.
Dogs want to please us, but they still want to have good things for themselves as well. Once the dog makes the connection that pleasing us means good things for him, he will start to respond more and more to your commands.
Here are some more tips about treats:
- Make sure they are small so that your dog does not get overweight. Tiny pieces are fine. Dogs like getting more in quantity and don’t really even notice quality where treats are concerned.
- If your dog suffers from allergies and has very specific dietary needs, then use their dog food. Hard dog food works fine though you may have to mix in some of their favorite stuff to put a new smell on it to make it exciting.
- Mix in plenty of love with your rewards. Dogs will start to connect your affection with good things happening. That is a great connection to make!
- Use their absolute favorite treats when they are in distracted environments. This is a good way to really get your dog to focus in a dog park or other highly stimulating area.
- Be very careful about the treats and their effects on your dog’s weight. An overweight well trained dog is not the goal here. Introduce healthy, low fat type treats in the beginning and you will not have this problem.