Do You Have to Bribe Your Dog? Or Do You Reward Her?

There’s a general misunderstanding floating around about what “positive reinforcement” means in training, and the use of food rewards that often accompanies it.  There are some “old fashioned” trainers who dismiss reward-based learning concepts as being “bribery” and think a dog should do what you want because he “wants to please you” or is obedient because he recognizes you as the superior, stronger more dominant force.

Research across many species of animals (and even “lower forms” of life including insects) has proven that punishment or rough responses do not result in learning taking place — whereas there is success when the teacher ignores unwanted behavior and rewards the desired outcome — in the case of dogs that would be through food, play or affection/attention.

The whole issue of rewards is something we often discuss on my training show GOOD DOGS! with my co-hosts from Avidog International, the Golden Retriever breeders, trainers and agility competitors. As Lise has pointed out in THIS segment, you can hear how no person would go to work every day and not expect a paycheck — and dogs are no different!

As a rule of thumb, there’s a clear difference between bribery and reward in training: if you hold out a treat and show it to a dog and try to lure her into a behavior, that is essentially “bribing” her to do it with the payoff right in front of her nose. By contrast, a reward comes only after the dog has accomplished the task you requested or expected and is given her rightfully earned “pay off” after the fact.

The lovely trainer Alyona Delacoeur on her training videos website “Why Does My Dog…?” (which is a sponsor of the Dog Film Festival as it travels the country)  does a fine job of showing the difference in this VIDEO.

The quality of the “prize” matters:  When training, keep in mind that a high value treat sends the dog a clear message of how happy you are with what she has done. A piece of dry kibble or biscuit is really not such a great prize!  You also want to keep the treats small and nutritious so you can use a lot of them as needed and the dog won’t get bored or get too full. I’ve found that the small squares of the various freeze-dried protein in the Liv-a-Little jars really make it worthwhile for my girls Maisie and Wanda to come back to me at a run when they are far away in a huge field and have to leave off digging a tunnel to find a maddeningly elusive vole! I want to make sure their pay off is better than what they were doing — and so good they won’t hesitate to come flying when they hear that whistle.

—Tracie Hotchner
(Have a comment? Share it on Facebook.)

Halo is a sponsor on Radio Pet Lady Network, by our invitation.