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.


Three core steps to house-train your puppy or dog.

1. Reward

First, in order to increase the desired behavior (your puppy eliminating outdoors), you will need to reinforce the behavior. Accompany him outside and praise and reward with a treat after he goes.

It’s better to wait until he finishes completely, otherwise your praise might interrupt and prevent your puppy from emptying his bladder, but each time he does go, praise and reward. The more correct behaviors rewarded, the stronger the appropriate behavior will emerge.

2. Manage

Second, manage your puppy indoors by limiting his freedom around the house, essentially setting him up to have no opportunities to eliminate inside the home. This strategy should be done simultaneously with step one.

Since puppies are less likely to eliminate in their space (with food, water, toys, and bed), create an area with these things to restrict their movement around the house.

This can involve setting up a puppy proofed room, utilizing a crate, or “tethering” (having your puppy on a leash attached to a harness, following you around for the day – although this is a more passive strategy where the puppy could still go while next to you, if your attention is elsewhere.

3. Redirect

After a few weeks of implementing steps 1 and 2, then allow your puppy to have more freedom around the house, while you actively supervise, to give you the opportunity to observe when your puppy starts to eliminate, to interrupt and redirect him to go outside the home. Make sure to continue rewarding the desried behavior with treats.

It’s important to build up a history of rewarding your puppy for going in the appropriate place (step 1), and preventing opportunities for mistakes inside (step 2), before working on step 3. If you start with step 3, it can scare your puppy, and lead to your puppy avoiding going while you are around. Instead your puppy will find secrete places hidden from your view to go, making it more difficult to house-train.

Any questions? Let us know in the comment section below.

By Dan Raymer, CTC, BS

Learning and Training Your Dog from Home

As the current virus pandemic spreads, our institutions are shutting down or people are self-quarantining (probably a good thing to decrease contamination as much as possible).

The good news: if you need dog training help, we have an online dog and puppy training class, and just recently upgraded our distance consulting services, where you can get help by phone and email. See the links below to learn more.

Dog and Puppy Training Class

Distance Consultations

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information

Here is a bit of good news from the CDC:

“CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19.”

I hope everyone stays safe.

By Dan Raymer, CTC, BS

Raymer Family Dog Training News: March 2020

My dog, Mocha, turns 10 years-old this month. In honor of her, I’m creating a coupon for our online Dog and Puppy Training Class. Use the button below to enroll in the class with $50 off during March:

Here are the class details.

The class includes: puppy class material, obedience behaviors, tricks, solving ordinary behavior problems and involves as much coaching and help as you need.

In addition, my new videos and class creations will resume shortly. My pets ended up at the veterinary clinic plenty of times already this year resulting in a delay of other projects.

One of my Academy for Dog Trainer colleagues, Zazie Todd, has a new book out. If this is anything like her blog, it will be amazing and packed with dog behavior science. I can’t wait to read it.

By Dan Raymer, CTC, BS

Fatal Dog Bites

Fatal dog bites are very rare, but obviously worth attempting to prevent if possible.

Factors thought to contribute to human fatalities from dog bites include:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Male gender
  • Intact reproductive status
  • Poor health
  • Late and inadequate training and socialization
  • Lack of supervision
  • Defense of territory or puppies
  • Hunger
  • Predatory experience
  • Pack-dog experience
  • Age
  • Size
  • Behavior of victims
  • Absence of other people in the vicinity

These are hypothetical factors. There is not enough data to rely on them currently.

(Mills, 2017, p. 161).

Patronek study data from 2000-2009 dog bite fatality cases.

  • Absence of an able-bodied person to intervene
  • Incidental or no familiar relationship of victims with dogs
  • Owner failure to neuter dogs
  • Compromised ability of victims to interact appropriately with dogs
  • Dogs kept isolated from regular positive human interactions versus family dogs
  • Owners’ prior mismanagement of dogs
  • Owners’ history of abuse or neglect of dogs

This is from case-series descriptions, so is not complete evidence of risk.

Victims are often the young and elderly.

(Mills, 2017, p. 174).

It’s worth noting that there is zero evidence that dog breed plays a role in fatal dog bites, despite media and others promoting this as if it’s true. Individual dogs of any breed can bite with serious or lethal force. Breed specific legislation designed to ban certain dog breeds has not worked as a preventative to serious dog bites. Instead communities should focus on controlling the factors above (in the Patronek study) to prevent fatal dog bites.


Mills, D., & Westgarth, C. (Eds.). (2017). Dog Bites: A Multidisciplinary Perspective. Sheffield, UK. 5M Publishing Ltd.

[ISBN: 978-1-910455-61-6]

Note: There are graphic photographs in this book that may be distressing to readers (for example, crime scene photographs designed for professionals who deal with dog bites).

By Dan Raymer, CTC, BS