Rewarding Dogs with Food
Canine behaviors that have been rewarded, purposely or not, are behaviors that the dog will repeat in the hope of gaining another reward. When we are starting a new training exercise, we reward continuously with treats, and then decrease them so they are happening randomly. Random treats, if done properly and “consistently random,” will create a happy working dog that is willing to please.
Food is the reward of choice for the majority of dogs and dog trainers. It is a prime motivator simply because most dogs love to eat and are driven to do so. When using treats as a motivator in training, it is important that the food used solely for training and should not be given freely just for looking cute. The dog has to earn his treats, which will in turn create a strong sense of membership and belonging in the pack. The type of treats you use can vary greatly. Stay away from dry crumbly treats because by the time the dog chews, swallows, and licks up the crumbs; he forgets why he got the treat in the first place.
It is important in initial training that the treat happens immediately for the desired response and is accompanied by verbal praise. In the learning phase of training, I encourage my students to treat and verbal praise only, and learn to keep our hands to ourselves. Touching a dog, especially a puppy, during a training session will interrupt the learning process. What also happens when we “touch-too-much” is it will energize the dog, bringing on over-activity, mouthing, jumping up, and other obnoxious behaviors.
Save the touching for quiet massage times or wait until training has progressed to the point where it won’t interfere with the dog’s concentration.
Verbal praise should be used consistently throughout the training of the dog and it must be genuine praise. Dogs are the first creatures to identify insincere or false sweetness from people. Lastly, remember touching is often a human thing; it makes us feel better, gets our needs met, but does little for some dogs as far as a reward is concerned. I have witnessed over and over again, humans attempting to praise their dogs with their hands and the dog’s body language is screaming, “Don’t touch me, I’m trying to concentrate!”
Always be aware of your timing as well. Train when the dog or puppy is alert, but not over stimulated. Time your training to occur prior to an event that the dog views as positive. For example training for short periods of time prior to feeding, walking, or playing. If you view it as the dog earning the meal, the walk or playtime with you, it helps keep it in perspective.
Article submitted by: © Nancy King (Biography & Additional Information)