Starving a Dog is Not Part of Positive Reinforcement Training

Misinformation led to the idea that professional animal trainers utilizing treat rewards starve a dog prior to commencing a training session or program. Where did this idea originate? Some of the older operant conditioning experiments kept an animal hungry in order to increase motivation for food, although this was not true of all the experiments. Nor does this discredit the operant conditioning experiments, since we also have around 80 years of practical positive reinforcement training that did not use starvation or deprivation as a technique.

While deprivation of food makes sense, if you are hungry, you are going to have an increased motivation to obtain food, this is not part of a modern day dog training program.

Many dogs are hyper-motivated by food and treats at all times. Other dogs do not eat endlessly once they are full.

Taking advantage of times when dogs are hungry: before breakfast, before dinner, during a mid-day snack time, allows for increased motivation without food deprivation. This is smart training. If a dog does not earn enough rewards during the training session, he still receives the remaining amount of food afterwards. For example, you could get one final good behavior, reward it with all of the remaining food that would constitute a regular meal, and end the session.

In dogs that have more severe behavior, like a dog with fear aggression who bites people and isn’t overly motivated by food, we can use all of the dog’s meals as motivators/rewards. This is not a strategy to starve the dog, but does require the dog to receive his food in training sessions. Good trainers can manipulate these scenarios to achieve behavior results while caring for each individual dog’s welfare.

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