Today we are dealing with a very controversial topic in the world of dog education: the use of food in training. Almost all those who oppose the use of rewards in food are part of the so-called “traditionalist” school, and prefer to use more violent methods even if they do not pass them off as such.
You will never find anyone who will tell you “to educate the dog you have to hurt him”. This goes against the morals of 99% of dog owners. In order to survive and have customers they will use phrases like:
- You have to make them understand who’s in charge.
- It doesn’t hurt if you use it well
- You bribe him with food, and you’re not a real packmaster.
- If you use food at first then you’ll always need it or he won’t listen to you.
THE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
Positive reinforcement, which is used in polite upbringing, is something the dog likes (not necessarily food), which is used to “reinforce” or reward, confirm, encourage the dog after performing a correct action or behavior.
As we said, it does not need to be food, as not all dogs are motivated by food resources. A sufficient reward can also be a caress, a sweet word of approval, the throwing of a ball or a new game. Whatever it is, it is essential that the dog likes it.
YOU MUST ALWAYS USE FOOD
This argument is often provided by those who know absolutely nothing about education based on positive reinforcement, and is totally false.
Food can be used at first in a continuous way, i.e.: reward the dog every time he performs a required behavior, or spontaneously perform an action we like. The final goal, however, remains to remove the food, and it is also quite simple.
After a few repetitions you can in fact proceed to “reward” the desired behavior from time to time. Example: we ask the dog to sit down and we reward him every 3 times he does so.
The next step will be to reward in an unpredictable way, that is: once every 3 repetitions, once every 5, the time after every 2. We speak in this case of variable reinforcement. The expectation of reward that is created in this way, makes it possible to eliminate the reward in food altogether, since the dog will have assimilated the behavior.
BODY. BETTER PROMISE OR THREAT?
No, that’s definitely not what we’re trying to explain. It’s not about bribery, it’s about a reward to be given after the behavior has been carried out. We could better define it as a promise. It’s like saying to the dog, “if you do this, you’ll get this.”
In “traditional” coercive education, the behavior is executed on threat. Execute this behavior or you’ll get a yank, a slap, a choke collar or any other punishment.
The huge problem is unfortunately that both methods work. In one case the dog will perform a behavior because he knows he will get a big reward in the end. Even if he does not perform the behavior he will still try everything to achieve his goal. He will be mentally activated, he will reason.
In the other method the dog will perform the behavior (even faster than the gentle method) because he is terrified of the possible consequences. Speed is one of the appeal factors of this method. People want everything and immediately. They want the perfect, polite dog, no matter how it is achieved.
If you are faced with a dog educator who offers you coercive methods and passes them off as “for his own good”, please run away and look for a serious educator.