There are quite a lot of myths surrounding using food or treats to train or reward your dog. Here are the ones one hears most often:
1. Food rewards amount to bribery
Think about the word ‘bribery’. What does it actually mean? A bribe is something you give in return for an unethical behaviour.
A reward, on the other hand, is something you give someone to thank them for good behaviour. Should we not reward our dogs for a job well done? Since when should obeying us be a thankless task?
2. Food rewards will make my dog fat
That just depends on the type and volume of food that you offer as a reward. If you know you are going to be rewarding your dog with food treats, choose healthy ones that are meant for dogs.
You can factor this in as part of their daily food ration and ensure that they don’t get overweight by not giving them too much food. But do avoid using scraps of ‘human’ food for treats. They can be very bad, or even fatal for your dog!
3. Food rewards transfer my dog’s loyalty away from me
Nope. Your dog knows very well that food doesn’t happen all on its own. Apart from that, dogs are social animals, and as the main figures in their lives, you and your family have all their loyalty.
Looking at this from another perspective, your mom gave you food and treats didn’t she? That didn’t stop you from loving her more than anything she ever gave you.
4. If you reward your dog with food, he or she won’t do as you say when no food is involved
Wrong. Your dog wants to please you. Food rewards are just a positive reinforcement that your dog has done the right thing.
If you use food for training, you can start limiting treats to the end of a training session instead of rewarding your pet every time he obeys a command.
As the dog begins to associate certain behaviour with a positive response from you, he or she will keep using that behaviour pattern even when you don’t have a treat handy. However, you should only start phasing out the treats once the dog has learned a command properly.
Advantages of food rewards for dogs
1. They’re a good alternative to aversion training
Aversion training imposes a rule of fear on your dog. He or she only obeys because they know that there will be a punishment if they don’t.
Obviously, the dog doesn’t feel so good about obeying commands. Food rewards create positive associations with training and obedience.
For your dog, being ‘good’ becomes a happy, positive experience, even when you don’t have a treat handy.
2. They can keep your dog entertained while you’re out
Puzzle toys that offer food rewards at intervals can keep a dog entertained for hours. The Foobler, a ball-shaped puzzle toy, releases a portion of food or a treat up to six times a day, helping your dog to overcome the inevitable boredom it experiences when you’re not home.
The foraging instinct is satisfied. After a period of nosing the ball around and keeping it under scrutiny, a bell rings. Munchies!
Bored dogs get up to mischief, but with a food reward in the offing, your dog will be keeping its eye on the ball – or at least – the Foobler!
3. A greater number of smaller feeds is better for digestion
Think about wild dogs, or the ancestors of the dogs that eventually became our domestic companions. How did they eat? Chances are, they scavenged a little bit of food here, and a little there throughout the day.
Just keeping your dog’s food bowl stocked all day may lead to obesity if your dog eats too much. And when you’re out, your dog might indulge in ‘comfort eating’ simply because there’s nothing better to do.
Providing for more regular, smaller feeds through the day keeps your dog entertained and is probably similar to the way he would have eaten when froaging in natural circumstances.
Foraging behaviour is natural, channel it
Dogs will forage. It’s in their nature, so the best thing we can do about that is to satisfy their instinct in a positive way.
Peter and the Team at Foobler