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The Power & Necessity Of Using Food In Dog Training: Why We All Need To Stop Being Ashamed And Start Dishing Out The Snacks!


dog licking his lips anticipating food

Dog training has evolved significantly over the last few decades, moving away from forced-based methods towards more positive and humane methods that involve rewards.


One of the most effective tools in a

modern dog trainer's tool kit is-- yep, you guessed it- FOOD!


Sadly, outdated thinking leads many to argue that using food in training equates to bribery, which is cheating or harmful.


In this post, I will explore why using food in dog training is incredibly important and why we need to stop looking at it as a bad thing.


Humans Are Motivated By Food And It Brings Us Together


I don't know about you, but the thought of my next meal is what gets me through daily appointments and work tasks. Think about how much of your hard-earned money you spend on food that you like.


All of this is to point out that humans ALSO love food. So having a food motivated dog is not a bad thing at all. In fact, it is something that many of us can relate to.


Similarly, food bonds humans and brings us together. What is the most common thing we do when we spend time with friends and family? We EAT! Food brings us together and is often a central piece of our social relationships. So why is it so crazy to consider bonding with our dogs through the use of food?

We never call it bribery when we cook dinner and invite a friend over to share a meal.


Positive Reinforcement Requires Tangible Rewards


Positive reinforcement is a foundational principle in modern dog training. It involves rewarding desired behaviors to encourage their repetition. Food is a primary reinforcer because it fulfills a basic need and is highly motivating for most dogs.


Believe it or not, the training skills we are asking of dogs are WORK for them, so they require a real-life reinforcer. For most dogs, praise or a pat on the head simply isn't motivating enough.


I mean, would you accept praise at work in lieu of a paycheck?



Using Food In Dog Training Builds Trust and Confidence


Contrary to the bribery argument, using food in training can actually enhance trust and confidence between you and your dog.


By associating food with positive experiences during training, the dog learns to trust you, the environment they are in, and the skills they are learning. This trust forms the basis of a strong relationship. The confidence and "good feeling" factor can also help us to modify emotions such as fear and aggression in dogs.



Enhancing Learning

Food is easy to have on hand and can be delivered quickly and efficiently. This makes it easier for learning to occur and helps our dogs understand the training goal more quickly. The better our timing with delivering the food, the faster our dog will understand what we are trying to teach them.



Addressing Individual Needs

Every dog is unique, with different preferences, motivations, and learning styles. Food rewards allow us to tailor their approach to meet the individual needs of each dog. We can use different "values" of food for different training scenarios for our dog based on what we are trying to accomplish.

For example, think of a hot dog or piece of stinky cheese as a BIG paycheck for a dog, and a piece of dry dog food as smaller payment. When we want to have a bigger impact on our dog's brain and/or emotions, we go for the stinky cheese.


Conclusion

In conclusion, using food in dog training is not bribery but rather a valuable tool for teaching new behaviors and changing emotions.

When employed correctly, food rewards can enhance learning, build trust and confidence, and strengthen our bond with our dogs.


So the next time you are tempted to be ashamed that you use food to train your dog or that your dog is food-motivated, remember these things:


  • You also need a tangible paycheck to be motivated at work

  • You likely bond with other humans through food

  • If you are anything like me, thinking about food is sometimes gets you through the day.


So don't stop using snacks when training dogs. Keep on dishing them out-- and do it proudly! Your dog deserves it and benefits from it!

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