Correct training utilizing treats as rewards does not equal bribery. Here’s why.
In order to teach dogs behaviors some form of motivation is required. Breaking this down into larger groups the options are: the carrot or the stick, or a combination of the two. The so called “stick” is motivation by application of harsh punishments. There’s plenty of reasons to avoid harsh punishment methods. In contrast, the “carrot” is something the dog wants.
Animals and people perform behaviors for a reason – essentially to earn rewards/reinforcement. Treat rewards act as a form of motivation, the behavior becomes worth doing to earn something valuable, just like people go to work to earn money, to buy food to survive. But a treat also acts as positive reinforcement, meaning the behavior is strengthened, and a dog is more likely to perform that behavior again. When we use correct training techniques, these reinforced behaviors are performed, and then the reward is provided. The reward does not come before the behavior. For example, we don’t give our children ice cream before they eat their broccoli, they have to eat their broccoli first in order to earn the reward of the ice cream. If the behavior of eating broccoli increases over time, the ice cream reward positively reinforced the behavior.
The confusion may come from lure-reward training, in which a treat is held by the dog’s nose to entice him to do behaviors like sit, down, walk forward, and then given as the reward. The treat is motivation for the dog to move (do a behavior), and a reward to reinforce the behavior (make the behavior response stronger). However, the correct training process only uses the treat shown up front early on to get the dog to perform the behavior, then the treat is faded (gradually removed) and replaced with hand signals, and verbal cues, where the treat is subsequently provided as positive reinforcement after the behavior is completed.
The final stage is to reinforce some of the correct behaviors the dog does. If we completely stop reinforcing behaviors, they will decrease, because they stop paying off for the dog to do them, and there’s other more rewarding things in the environment to spend time doing.
A failure to fade the treat-lures in the initial step can result in a dog that views the treat as part of the cue to perform the behavior. This might give the appearance that all uses of treats are bribery. Correct training technique clears this up quickly, and then treats can be given after the behavior is performed to reinforce and maintain those behaviors long-term.
So to summarize: you need some form of motivation. Treats or toys work well. The other type of motivation consists of harsh punishments, but those have negative side effects, leading to more behavior problems or harming your dog’s well-being, so should be avoided.
Using lure-reward training you will show the treat-reward up front to get the behavior, then reinforce the behavior, advancing to the point where the lures are faded, and replaced with hand signals and verbal cues as the dog learns when to perform the new behavior.
We have to keep reinforcing some of the behaviors to maintain them, but at this final stage the rewards (treats, toys) are given after the correct behavior is performed.
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In addition, it looks like the pandemic/COVID-19 is slowly improving. Thank you to everyone who is patiently waiting for in-person private training lessons. If you would like to be added to our current list, you can still sign up now – email me at [email@example.com]. I will be contacting everyone in a first-come-first-serve type of process once I’m available for in-person dog training lessons.
Preventing Separation Anxiety
Whenever a dog’s environment/schedule changes drastically, it is possible for this to lead to separation anxiety: the phobia/fear of being left alone. For anyone that has been home and with their dog more often than normal due to the coronavirus but will be going back to work, make sure to gradually introduce your dog to time left alone again. Go out for very short trips while you leave your dog at home. You can start very slowly, leaving for a few minutes at a time, until it’s for an hour or few at a time. Make it a positive experience by placing some treats for your dog to eat as you leave.
If your dog already has separation anxiety, you’ll need a much more structured and comprehensive approach to solve the problem.
Remove aversive training methods and interactions with your dog. Basically this means don’t do things that scare, hurt, or startle your dog, because these will lead to more behavior problems. See our complete list of methods to avoid.
Increase enrichment activities for your dog – this means supplying fun activities for him to do instead of sitting around all day deciding to do behaviors that are problems for people. Increase your dog’s walks, give him puzzle toys to extract treats from them, play with toys like fetch and tug, allow him to run off leash in safe areas (fenced in), allow him to sniff more on walks, or to find hidden toys/food around your home. Use your imagination and creativity for activities.
This won’t solve all types of problems, but it will for some like boredom barking, or excessive running around the house knocking things over.
Identify the cause of the behavior. Does your dog only bark when other dogs pass by the windows? Does your dog walk fine on leash until people or other dogs appear, and then pull/bark/growl? Does your dog jump on people all the time, or only when excited? Does your dog have a medical issue that is leading to a behavior problem? When we figure out the causes, triggers, or environmental factors that lead to specific behaviors, we can better implement a plan to solve the problem. For example, treating a medical issue, will eliminate the resulting behavior problem. Avoiding triggers, we can prevent behavior from showing up, or we can teach new, calmer behaviors.
Teach a behavior incompatible with the problem behavior. If a dog is jumping on people, then we can teach him to keep his feet on the ground with rewards. If a dog is taking food off the kitchen counter, teach him a down-stay on a soft bed instead. If a dog pulls on-leash, then teach him to walk calmly by your side for treat rewards.
Thank you to everyone that is patiently waiting for in-person dog training lessons. It appears that things are improving with the virus. Hopefully sometime in May, or soon after, everything will be back to normal. As soon as it is, I will contact each of you to schedule your dogs’ lessons.
Convenient Dog Training
In addition, I have online dog training classes you can take from the comfort of your home. These classes are self-paced, with as much help as you need. They are easy to use. Simply go to our website to read content and training plans, and watch videos through YouTube links. It’s that easy. No special technology skills required. I’m here to help through the whole process, and quick to respond to questions.
How Else Can We Help?
Please let me know if I can do anything else to help you and your dogs during this time. If there are any special topics you want to learn about, leave some notes in the comment section. Thank you! I hope everyone is staying safe.