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It is always surprising how much people will protest the use of food in dog training. Time and again it is argued that the dog shouldn’t work for food, they should be working for YOU. It is true that some dogs enjoy working just for the sake of working (Border Collies come to mind). Other dogs are perfectly content to work for verbal praise or attention from their owner. We often call these the “what can I do for you” dogs. However, there is nothing shameful about owning a “what can you do for me” dog and more often this is the case. Dogs are reknown opportunists. If there is a way to create pleasure for themselves, they usually find it. If they see you as a reliable source of pleasure, whether it come in the form of food, praise or play, then at the very least you will have a nice foundation for a strong bond between you and your dog. This is a worst case scenario if your timing happens to be off with your rewards, if you don’t know how to fade rewards out and put them on an intermittent schedule or if you bribe your dog by always giving commands with food in your hand. At the very least your dog will still really like you!
Here at the Clicker Leash Co. we enjoy watching trainers like Victoria Stilwell and Zak George on Animal Planet. In Stilwell’s case she is normally called in to deal with unruly behaviour. She uses positive reinforcement to teach incompatible, desirable behaviors to replace the stuff that drives most owners nuts. On George’s new show Super Fetch, he teaches really cool and practical tricks to dogs, again, using positive reinforcement. George refers to the rewards as “currency.” We like this because it helps people see the reward for what it is. Most people don’t love their jobs and wouldn’t perform daily tasks if it weren’t for the pay cheque they receive every two weeks. Of course people would probably be more productive if their rewards were tied more closely to the individual tasks but that just isn’t practical for most employers. Fortunately it is practical for most people to do when they are training their dogs!
In one of his recent blog posts on Dog Star Daily, Eric Goebelbecker discusses “5 Myths About Training Dogs with Treats.” Check out his post for some great arguments on why it is OK to use treats to help teach your dog new behaviours. If you have been having problems with your dog training and haven’t tried rewards to motivate your dog, what have you got to lose? Remember, only your dog can determine what is rewarding so experiment to see what really gets the tail wagging! Happy training!