Think of some supremely trained dogs, military and canine police officers for example, who work alongside their partners to prevent crime and protect others from possible harm.
Some may not know that service dogs trained to sniff out bombs or illegal drugs are mostly educated to locate these objects in association with their favorite toy, instead of being rewarded with a tasty treat. This doesn’t mean that training techniques shouldn’t include food as an incentive for good behavior, but it’s important to know the difference between using treats as a bribe or a form of baiting, in expectation of getting them into doing what is expected from them.
For example, wildlife animal removal experts often use food to draw out dangerous animals for capture. This isn’t a training technique, but rather simply using a lure to trap an animal that needs to be relocated rather than destroyed. These trappers aren’t attempting to train an animal, only looking into getting them to perform a short-term behavior for an immediate reward.
In this light, let’s look at the differences between using positive reinforcement techniques for long-term benefits and how they can be mistaken for baiting or bribery:
LURING VS. REWARDING
First of all, from a training standpoint, we must understand that treats should not only be used sparingly, but also as an incentive that happens after the fact. Let’s take a simple training necessity like “sit” as an example. If you use a piece of food, held above a dog’s nose while giving the command, you’re luring (or bribing) the dog into performing, rather than teaching them the behavior as associated with the word.
Instead, you should use a leash, and after giving the command, pull gently up on the collar with the leash while pressing gently on their backside. After many attempts and repetition, along with rewards of praise, the treat should be offered later after the completion of this task once it has been performed successfully.
A BRIBE OR A REWARD?
Another necessary behavior that every dog should understand is the necessity of them coming when they are called. Though this may seem simple enough, sometimes a stubborn dog won’t be likely to comply. If you offer them food every single time you call them, unless you have a treat on you at all times, they’ll learn on their own the reward may … or may not … exist.
Depending upon the circumstance or environment, if you need them to come to you for their own safety, this is an essential command that must be obeyed regardless of a food-related reward. It’s better to associate their arrival with affection. When they’re a puppy, you can teach them this important behavior with a treat, but be sure to replace affection and praise to reinforce this behavior with other rewards that aren’t necessarily food-related.
Using food and treats can be utilized in association with positive reinforcement techniques, but remember, playtime, love and attention go a long way when it comes to rewarding your pet. Your best friend shouldn’t always associate a treat with a positive training experience.