A lot of people I meet are concerned about using food treats in training. When the dog is performing well, they’ll say, “he’s just doing it for the treats,” or, “she’ll do anything for food!”
When it boils down to it, there are two motivations in dog training – the dog is either working to receive something or working to avoid something.
There is then a spectrum of value on either side. For most dogs, food treats are of high value compared to say, verbal praise or pats. The other advantage of a food treat is that you can be more precise in timing the treat to be a clear reward for a specific moment in time, especially using marker training.
Not many dogs will work for praise only when they have no prior experience with the command. When they’re experienced with the command through training with a higher value reward such as food, they can be gradually weaned to praise only. But when you’re starting from scratch you need a way to show the dog what to do and how to move their body. There are usually two options for this: show the dog where to move their head by following a treat or physically move the dog into position. You can also do a combination of the two.
For most dogs, receiving a reward as part of the process and not being shoved around is a lot more motivating.
The next step is to ensure the food reward happens as a reward, not a bribe. The dog may initially learn the movement by following the treat but next, you want to create the behaviour to happen first, then present the reward second.
In this way the food can truly be a reward rather than a bribe, and can be reduced to a sometimes thing, rather than a necessity.
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