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Bribing Your Dog

I think the number one complaint I hear about positive training methods is that they rely on using treats to bribe your dog to listening to the things you suggest. There seems to be a belief that dogs are supposed to be subservient and submit to our orders instantly. People believe that dogs should respect their masters enough for the owners to not have to reward them with treats or food.

I was surprised when I first started training dogs the amount of push back I got for choosing to use scientifically based fear-free training methods. I thought that people, while initially skeptically, once showed the results, would be like “Oh! Of course that’s way better than X, Y or Z” and flock to it. But I’ve found a lot of the clients I’ve worked with and those who I’ve interacted within the training community were pretty resistant to it. What surprised me even more was people would willingly choose to use painful training methods like a shock collar or choke chain instead of something as powerful as food.

I suppose some of this comes from the mentality of “this was the way it was always done.” Positive training methods, while used prior, weren’t well popularized until the 1980s when Ian Dunbar and Karen Pryor began to publish some of the methods and techniques they use to train animals. I think some of it also comes from what people see and hear about in the media with the popular Cesar Milan “Dog Whisperer” show driving people’s prospective of what dog training should look like.

The biggest complaint by far that I hear from folks who are initially resistant to using food or treats in training is they don’t want to have to bribe their dog into doing what the human want. They want their dog’s to respect and love them, without having to use food as a crutch. This belief is incorrect for two reasons.

The first is that in order for a dog to respect you and continue to work for you, you do need to pay your dog. You dog works just like you do. They bark, they walk, they play, and they love unconditionally. This is the job we have asked them to do. Humans and dogs history has been intertwined for tens of thousands of years. They deserve to be paid for that “work” that we have bred them for. We don’t work for free, so why should we expect our dogs too.

The second misconception is that when you training positively your dog will ONLY listen when you have treats. The fact is that you don’t always have to use treats or food, you can use what are called “life rewards” to “pay” your dog with something they like that isn’t food. Maybe it’s the toss of a favorite ball or toy, maybe it’s access to a new area or access to greet a person or dog. Maybe it’s simply a “good dog” and a hearty scratch. One of my own dogs LOVES burying herself into the blankets. Be creative and do what works for the both of you.

Tailing from this idea of using other rewards besides food, keep in mind, you don’t always have to pay your dog 100% of the time, but you do still have to pay them eventually. Much like you don’t get a paycheck every day, you do still get one after a period of time. You’ll continue to work during this unpaid week/s or month with the expectation that your boss will keep up their end of the deal and pay you fairly for your work. Throughout the work week, you’ll get small paychecks, maybe a “good job,” get to have lunch “on the company’s dime,” or maybe someone will bring in donuts for the office. These small “payments” keep you motivated to keep working until that big payday comes. Your dog is the same way.

They need these small “payments” while they work, and then a few jackpots to keep up the intensity/interest in you and what you’re asking them to do. The biggest win you can have while training your dog in a force free method is a bond and trust that outweighs all others. It is a bond that has been formed over the centuries between humankind and canine. And it’s one we can all hope to experience in our lifetimes.