Is Treat Training Bribery?

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.

By Dan Raymer

4 Training Tips to Solve Dog Behavior Problems

1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

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.

4.

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.

By Dan Raymer

Raymer Family Dog Training News: April 2020

In-Person Dog Training

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.

By Dan Raymer

Happy Easter!

We have beautiful weather in North Carolina. The greenery is showing up in full spring blooming, it remains relatively cool, and there’s plenty of people and dogs enjoying walks in the neighborhood. Despite the virus shutting down many of our normal holiday places, I’m hoping everyone can find some peace and happiness on this special day. Happy Easter!

– Dan Raymer

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.