A powerful tool to help your dog while training is to begin teaching them a new skill or command with the use of a food reward. Often, this food reward begins as a lure, where one uses the treat to guide a dog into the desired position (sit, down, etc.) or to complete a specific behavior. Eventually, the lure is faded out, a visual cue replaces the lure, and the dog is then rewarded with a treat. The lure acts to guide a dog while the reward reinforces the behavior so that it is likely to reoccur in the future.
Bribing is not behavior modification, but a poor management skill. A bribe is specifically offered before a required behavior to attempt to coerce a dog to complete a command. A dog operating on bribery will look for treats as a cue to behave well prior to choosing to do so instead of learning desired behaviors and performing them. You may have witnessed this if you have heard another pet parent shout, “Do you want a treat?!” in a desperate attempt to convince their canine companion to complete the desired task. At this point, the dog will learn that a cue for a certain behavior is only important when a bribe is visible. If you feel like you have to bribe your dog to do a specific behavior, something went wrong during the training process.
The basis behind dog training is to teach your dog to want to do desired tasks by setting them up for success and providing them with the chance to complete the desired task. If you are successful, you and your dog will reach an understanding of each other’s wishes, and the process is enjoyable for everyone involved. It is a win-win situation. However, this will never occur with bribery.
There are a few simple steps you can take to avoid a treat-dependent dog. When luring your dog, place the treat in your hand in such a way that it is not visible to your dog. Just a reminder- treats do not have to be large to be gratifying to your dog; you can use treats that are small enough to fit between the tip of your fingers. Keeping the treat hidden from your dog will help your dog from becoming dependent on a visual cue of a treat to complete a task.
When training a dog to complete new behaviors or commands, a high rate of reward is necessary but temporary. Treats act as an aid in training to teach behaviors but the rate of reward must be decreased over time as your dog learns expected behaviors to avoid a dependency on a higher rate of reward. To wean your dog off treats, begin by rewarding your dog randomly. Try rewarding your dog for completing a specific behavior every second, then fifth, then third time so your dog begins to comprehend that there are rewards, but on a varying basis. Another tip is to introduce life rewards for behaviors your dog knows well. For instance, ask your dog to sit and reward them with praise, petting, or a stroll through the neighborhood. You may find that a specific life reward, such as going for a car ride, far outweighs a food reward for your dog. Every dog has their own preferences for certain actions, and you can use your dog’s favorite actions in place of food rewards.
Remember to always teach your dog to do desired behaviors instead of bribing them to do so, and as always, happy training!
If you would like more information, please contact Daylan Brazis, Dog Trainer with 2 Paws Up Inc daylan@2pawsupinc or call 770-695-3096 Ext 701. We will be happy to give you a free 15-minute consult. Let us know how we can help you.