We Don’t Get To Choose
The Fallacies of the “No Food” Training Camps
It’s true that animals find all different types of things rewarding in their day to day life. Working breeds often find toy/play rewards motivating when learning whereas the majority of other dog breeds/mixes consistently find food rewarding. When changing associations, such as a dog that is fearful of strangers, potent and novel food reinforcement has been proven very effective (think steak!). You may have heard of Pavlov and how he used food to associate the sound of a bell, which elicited an emotional response of salivation.
I often find it interesting when I come across a dog trainer that makes the following statement: “No treats, only praise!” If you think about it that would be like me saying to you, “Sorry, you cannot find money rewarding for your hard work, I am only offering you hugs and praise. BUT… I expect you to work just as hard as you would for money!” Hmmmmmm, probably wouldn’t go over very well NOR would it be effective.
What an animal finds rewarding is not something that humans have the luxury of choosing. If that were the case I would save a bundle on dog training treats and food! I use what has been researched and proven in the scientific community to be effective and won’t have harmful side effects. It’s unethical to motivate an animal using intimidation, force and pain. The side effects from that approach are one I see in clients frequently and it’s not because people want to hurt their dogs. They are counting on the “experts” they are paying to give them the most accurate information!
If you are worried that using food in training will spoil your dog or become a bribe I would encourage you to think about food as reward for a good job or payment. Dogs unfortunately do not do things because they’d like our respect or love. They are selfish in that they do what works for them or has worked in the past. It may be disappointing once you learn the truth but understanding animal behaviour means that fallacies about animals thinking the way humans do only means we can work and live with them more effectively.
When it comes to changing fear and negative associations there are many specifics to the process in which a qualified trainer will be able to coach you through. It is a long road but the use of high value food (to the dog, not you) is a key component in the process as well as timing, consistency and a well-designed training plan.
Ask trainers questions. LOTS of questions. If they make a statement then ask them where they learned that or if there is research to back up those statements. It’s a murky profession with no regulation. Please do due diligence. You and your dog deserve the best.
Where to find a qualified trainer: