If I had a dollar for every time I heard that training with food is ‘just bribery’ I’d be a rich dog trainer! But is it true? If we train our dogs with food will we be left with demanding canines that only perform when the promise of a treat is dangled in front of their nose? Well, the answer can certainly be Yes, but it sure doesn’t have to be.
Amongst all the jargon in dog training, the words Lure, Bribe and Reward all have their own definitions and it pays to remember these when you start training with food.
A method of guiding a dog through a new behaviour. For example, if you place a food treat on your dog’s nose and slowly bring it down to the ground, you can lure them into a down. Here’s the catch – a lure must be faded quickly (within 6-10 trials) in order to prevent it from developing into a bribe.
Showing the dog a piece of food (or other reward) in order to get them to follow a command. Typically, a dog that has been bribed in the past will fail to comply with a command if the bribe is not visible.
Something given to a dog (in this case food) immediately after a behaviour to increase the likelihood of this behaviour occurring in the future.
If you find yourself waving a treat in front of your dog’s nose to get him to sit, and you have been doing this long after the first few training sessions, then ooops…you’re in Bribesville! Follow us for the Exit….
Until now, your dog has learnt that if they see food then it is worth following your commands because food in your hand reliably predicts a reward. When they don’t see food in your hand, the chances of a reward are zero so the motivation to follow the command is much lower. Change the way your dog thinks about food rewards – lure your dog into a sit with a food treat but don’t give them the treat. Now put the food treat down, ask your dog to sit with an empty hand signal and if they do give them several food treats (from your pocket, the bench, race to the cookie jar etc). An empty hand should start to predict a high chance of a treat arriving as if by magic! You should also start to mix up your rewards, find out what your dog loves – tug, chasing a ball, sniffing a tree, massage – and start using these as ‘life rewards’.
Used correctly, food can be a powerful tool in training – just make sure you don’t wander off into Bribesville!