I said those words to a client the other day and it sparked a discussion about things a dog wants as a payment from their human. The client was telling me about a person that bragged she did not use treats to “bribe” her dog.
Good training requires the dog receive a payment (reward) for performing a behavior properly. Just like cash, not all currency has the same value. Currency is anything a dog values or a combination of things he values. It is not what a human THINKS the dog should value. In other words, a pat on the head is typically not a high enough currency for a job well done; however, several pieces of chicken combined with a heartfelt “What a good dog!” and a butt scratch is. It could be butt scratches combined with a tug toy. It could be a combination of verbal praise, a meatball and a toy tug. A dog’s currency can change. Hot dogs may be wonderful for home training but are just icky when training in a new location or perhaps you have used them for every training situation and now a hot dog is just boring.
Back to the comment that treats equate to bribes. Would the following example be a bribe or would it be a payment (reward)? Example 1: My dog is barking in the yard at midnight. I call my dog to “come” and she does not respond. I take out a bag of treats and shake it at my dog and she runs toward me to come inside and then I pay her with a treat from the bag. Example 2: My dog is barking in the yard at midnight. I call my dog to “come” and she immediately stops barking and runs toward me to come inside. I verbally praise her as she is running toward me and as she steps inside, I will pay her with a treat. Example 1 is a bribe and Example 2 is a payment/reward. Anytime you show the dog the payment before the desired behavior occurs you are bribing the dog. Bribes come in every form of payment (reward) – toys, food or a promise to go for a car ride. The point is the payment is presented before the desired action takes place.
Remember, the best currency is what the dog finds rewarding. Some people seem to think dogs should work for “LOVE”. Really? Love is a human currency and with the current divorce rate you can see how great that is. My dogs love me. They love squirrels. I won’t give them squirrels to kill as a reward (you’re welcome!). I may let my dogs bark at a squirrel after they have sat still or maybe we go and investigate a chipmunk hole together. Of course, I can’t carry a chipmunk hole in my pocket so my currency needs to be portable and easy to handle.
I use food. Damn, good food. I’m talking steak, meatballs and chicken. I’ll use Fresh Pet because it’s convenient and I can increase the value by adding different food items to it. When I use this kind of food, I have dogs eating out of my hand within moments of meeting them. Things become clear really fast for them. Food is love. Without food, dogs die. Try to live on love alone or toys alone and you have one hungry dog. I will jackpot the good behavior all the time as a reward. Before you know it, the behavior is automatic. That’s right, if you pay a behavior, you get the behavior. If you bribe the behavior, you won’t get the behavior without the bribe.
You can’t reward good behavior if you aren’t prepared. Don’t feel like you are “less” of an owner because your dog’s currency is food. I bet you carry a water bottle with you. I certainly don’t think less of you because you like to stay hydrated! Bring your dog’s currency out for a walk one day and see what happens. Catch your dog doing something right. The more you do that, the more they will want to engage you during that walk around your neighborhood. Try to combine food, play and attention for the knock-out punch of payments. If you do your job right, then one day, you’ll be out for a walk and your dog will be staring at you with the adoration that you deserve and there will be no food or toy around. Your dog will happily watch you because you put the time in paying the proper behavior with a currency the dog found valuable.