It’s NOT Up To You: To treat or not to treat

Posted: March 8, 2010 in Uncategorized


One of the questions that comes up often is what type of reward (motivation tool) to use during dog training. Some folks swear by affection (The Monks of New Skete for example), some like to use toys (Wendy and Jack Volhard for example), and of course the old stand-by is food reward.

So which one of these (or is there a forth option?) is the best tool. The answer? It’s not up to you.

It’s up to the dog of course. What motivates the dog the most? Your job as a dog handler is to figure that out and then use that.
Most dogs are motivated by food, so of course food reward is the old stand-by; however, I’ve worked with dogs (two in particular come to mind) who could care less about food.

One (Lassie look alike) was all about affection. What was little bizarre about it is that Lassie was motivated particularly by male affection. Her owner was female, and her owner had worked with a female trainer before and they didn’t get very far. This dog seemed to respond and work for male affection.
The other (Snoopy look alike) wasn’t motivated by affection, food or toys, but by interaction. She wanted someone who could match her energy and the level of excitement (the owner was an elderly lady who had another very mellow dog). Once you managed to get as hyper as she was, once we were on the same wave length of sorts, she was very easy to work with.

So how come some trainers have tremendous success always using just one method for all dogs? There are at least two reasons.

First, it is congruent with their personality and they have become technically proficient at maximizing the desired effects.
Second, there are ways in which one can make any of these methods more effective. In other words, we can manipulate the dog’s proclivities to our advantage.

We will discuss the first point in another post, for now, we will talk about making whatever method you use more effective.

To that end, whatever is used for training, shouldn’t be used outside the training. Why? Because it loses value.

Would you work for money if you had all the money in the world?

Lets drive this point home.

What is your favorite food? Pizza, cake, stake, chocolate…? If you were fed your favorite food 3 times a day, how long before you were entirely satiated and sick of that particular food?

By the same token, if your dog receives treats throughout the day and for doing absolutely nothing, those food rewards will start to matter less.
Affection is a particularly difficult thing to withdraw, however the same principle applies. If you are constantly smothering your dog with affection, he will not work for it. Same goes for toys. I am not saying to deprive your dog of toys, but I am saying that certain high-value toys that are used during training should ONLY be used during training.

Here is a trick some trainers use. This is almost never shared with general public.

Trainers will reward-starve the dog before the training session to make the dog work harder and pay close(er) attention to the handler. This may be a difficult concept to digest for some folks, but its no different than when your doctor asks you not to eat the day before a procedure.

Here is an example.

Lets say we will have a food-reward based training session tomorrow. In order to make the dog a highly cooperative party in this training session, we will choose NOT to feed the dog dinner the night before and breakfast the day of. A healthy dog can last weeks without food, so skipping 1-2 meals is not that drastic. You can bet that a dog who is only somewhat motivated by food will be highly motivated by food if hungry.

Same goes for affection. Trainers will keep the dog isolated for few hours to a day before engaging in a training session. Once the training begins and affection is shared with a dog that hasn’t received it in a while, it becomes very valuable.

You can see how taking these techniques to their extreme can be cruel and inhumane, which is why they are NOT shared with general public.
Thinking goes like this. Your average dog owner is probably unable to apply these techniques in effective yet humane way. Besides, most dog owners don’t need this level of cooperation. However, knowing about these techniques, how they are used, and how they are applied, should be enough to convince the dog owner to pull-back on treats outside the training times (if treats are used as motivation), or hold-back the affection if affection is used as a reward. Same goes for toys.

I would love to hear about weird dogs you’ve encountered. The ones that work only for male affection, or the ones who are looking for someone to match their energy level before they start “listening” to you. What motivational tool have you used outside of the big three? (food, affection, toy).


Posted via web from Dogan Dogs Video Blogs

  1. Mary Lou says:

    For those who opt to treat, Amazon has treat pouches on sale. They help free up your hands.

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