First, I DO have a point to the rambling that is about to occur, and I have a little secret too.
I get this all the time from new clients, "Aren't those treats just a bribe? That will never work."
In truth they are right about one thing- bribery is not a dependable way to train, as it will only work as long as the dog knows you have the reward. I had a client once who wanted to work on training a reliable recall with their dog. I asked how they currently responded to their dog's refusal to come inside when called and they explained that they would call him, he would run away and eventually they would go inside to grab a bag of treats. They would run back outside with the bag of treats and shake it up and down to get his attention. It worked like a charm...every time they had a bag of treats. In reality, I know about three people who are capable of remembering to have treats on them at ALL TIMES to ensure their dog is paying attention. Two of them are really more 'cat people' than 'dog people' anyway.
My point is this: if you want to use bribery to train your dog, you'll have to put in a lot of work. A lot. Every day, every time you go anywhere or do anything with your dog and you want her to listen, you'll need plenty of treats at the ready. Don't drop any, or run out, because that's when your pup will get into real trouble.
I'm not saying that reward based training is not work, or that I don't think you are capable of doing work, I just know that you would probably prefer to do less work to obtain a better outcome. That's what you get with reward based training done correctly- a well trained dog who likes you and you don't need to constantly have treats.
The difference between bribery and reward based training (done right) is that with bribery, the dog only works for the treat (or any reward), and has no motivation to do so without the reward. With reward based training (done right), the dog does work for food- I won't lie and say that food is not a motivator because it is. It's a really fantastic motivator too. The food isn't the only thing that a dog works for in this type of training, however. They also work for attention from their human, playtime, toys, interaction with other dogs, and anything else they consider rewarding. I start with these "real life rewards" right away with my clients and make sure we determine what things are rewarding for each individual dog. Some dogs will do anything for a frisbee or tennis ball and turn their nose up to the most savory treat. I knew one dog who would not take any treats or toys but absolutely loved other dogs. Guess what his reward was? Brief playtime with other dogs in class!
In addition to the real life rewards, I teach all my clients how to successfully wean off the food treats. Weaning is important for both the dog and her human- I don't want either one to become dependent on the treats! If the human is dependent on having treats, they won't believe their dog will perform without them and will (unaware of it, because this is largely subconscious) not behave the same way they do when they have treats. The dog, being an expert in human body language, will notice something is different and will not react as she normally would to the cues given. If a dog is used to only performing when she sees treats, she will see no point in performing without them- would you go to work if you knew your boss couldn't pay you? The two things that we do to help start weaning are random reinforcement and rewarding best behaviors. Random Reinforcement is just that- you reward your dog randomly, with absolutely no pattern when they comply with the cues you ask for. With this, your dog learns that there is sometimes a reward and sometimes a non-edible reward...and always praise and attention! I know what you're thinking, if they only get a reward sometimes, why will they even bother? Because of the other half of weaning- Rewarding Best Behaviors. When your dog does great, I mean great- sat down before you even finished saying it while there was a squirrel running by- give a GREAT treat. If they take their time sitting down or ignore you, they get no treat, but still always get verbal praise. With this, your dog learns that they always get a great treat for responding fast and will strive for that. Coupled with random reinforcement and adding in real life rewards, your dog will not only pay attention to you, but she will want to do what you ask of her because she will always have fun and will always get at least attention from you. Attention is a wonderful motivator and reward for (most) dogs, as they are social creatures just like we humans.
Now, I will briefly touch on the lure used in training- and this is probably one of the big ways training with rewards is not bribery. The lure is initially comprised of a treat hidden in your fist, then you place your hand in front of your dog's nose for them to follow. Now that you essentially have control of her head, you can get her into just about any position with no force at all- YAY!! As your dog gets better at getting into position, you use a hand with no treat and they will still follow this lure. When combined with a verbal cue, the hand signal is how you communicate with your dog and both are equally important. I like to say that the hand signal is so your dog knows what you want her to do and the verbal cue is to remind you what you are asking of your dog. Again, the difference between a lure and a bribe is that a bribe is that treat or treat bag that you bring out to get compliance and a lure is to direct your dog into position and sometimes also contains a reward.
Oh, you wanted to know that secret I told you about in the first sentence? Ok, here it is- I do sometimes use bribes in training. I know- I'm a big, fat, unreliable hypocrite. The thing is, sometimes we really, really need a dog to do or not do something. Like when your puppy decides to play in traffic or run into the woods in search of a fox, or decides it's a great idea to take on that big scary dog down the street who barks every time a leaf blows by their house...you really just need to get your dog back to safety at this point so we do what we know will work. If it's a matter of using a bribe or someone getting hurt, I'm going to use a bribe to keep everyone safe. The important thing is that I make sure this doesn't become a chronic occurrence. If it does, things need to change in the environment and the management in this dog's life needs to be stepped up. Management and environment are issues for another post and another day, so I'll stop here.
Have you used bribery with your dog? How long did it last?
What is your dog's favorite reward?
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