Baker: It’s all about reward! |

Baker: It’s all about reward!

Victoria Baker
Dog Training 101

Would you go to work without a paycheck? If the reward was not enough to compensate for the stress, workload, or monotony of the daily grind; what would you do? You would QUIT or be unhappy. Dogs are no different. Everyone, including dogs, work for reward. So, what is rewarding for a dog? FOOD!


Food is universally motivating for all animals. We can’t survive without it. The benefits of using food in training are many. Food is cheap, easy to take with you, suitable for most situations, and allows for multiple repetitions in a short training session. Food also creates happy hormones in the brain (endorphins) and allows the dog to make a positive association to the trainer and its environment. Food also provides feedback. Food is an easy way to let the dog know what he is doing is correct. Withholding food lets him know it is not correct. Reward-based training done fluently helps your dog learn because you are providing constant and consistent feedback. There is no right or wrong in a dog’s world. There are only those choices that get rewarded and those choices that do not. Don’t be stingy with the feedback (food).

So why are we humans so averse to using food in dog training? Below are the common arguments or myths against using food and why they don’t make sense.

Food is an easy way to let the dog know what he is doing is correct. Withholding food lets him know it is not correct.


Myth – Treats are bribes: There is a big difference between a bribe and a reward. A bribe is produced before the desired behavior; a reward is produced after the desired behavior. The rewarded dog, learns that good things are delivered after he performs a behavior, and so is likely to perform that behavior without the owner having to present the food first. This makes it easy to integrate other types of non-food rewards into the dog’s training program.

Myth – I Want My Dog to Respect Me: Some people seem to think that dogs should find working for their people inherently rewarding. The idea that this relationship is so one-sided that dogs will perform for no tangible reward makes no sense. Dogs that are trained with aversives don’t work out of “respect” any more than a child being spanked. Force and intimidation will get a response, but it has nothing to do with respect nor is that response reliable in the absence of the threat.

Myth – Dogs should work for praise: Closely related to the previous myth is the idea that dogs find praise rewarding. Some dogs do, but that praise is a conditioned response based on a good relationship that has been earned. For most, the idea that a dog will call off a squirrel for a “pat on the head” (which they hate) or a “good boy” is fantasy.

Myth – I’ll have to keep food on me all the time: If the training is done correctly where the reward comes only after the dog has performed the behavior, then other rewards can be introduced to the training process once the dog has learned a new behavior. Dogs also repeat what they have practiced. Once the behavior is a habit, food rewards should come intermittently and real life rewards are introduced as the ultimate reward. For example, Fluffy sits calmly to wait to say hello to a friend and in turn is given the real life reward of greeting the friend, or Fluffy looks to you for permission before heading off down the trail, you give permission and the reward is Fluffy gets to move ahead down the trail.

Myth – My dog isn’t food motivated: Your dog must eat to survive and is therefore food motivated. I have yet to work with a dog that wasn’t motivated by some sort of food reward. The treat you are using must be something the dog desires. There are a variety of reasons your dog may not want to take the treat, which is usually related to stress or fear, and that is another article.

As owners, you provide your dog with the food he needs every day by giving it freely to him in a bowl. Why not use that same food to reward and teach good behavior. Every interaction you have with your dog is a training interaction. There is no law that says dogs must only eat their food out of a bowl. So get your dog working for his meals and improve his training and behavior. You have nothing to lose!

Victoria Baker with Furever Behavior Dog Training, provides gentle, modern, science-based training for dogs and their people in the Grand County area. You may contact her at or email

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