Tony Cruse is a dog trainer and the owner of Tc Dog Training based in Essex. He is a member of The Association of Pet Dog Trainers and The Institute of Modern Dog Trainers and the author of ‘101 Doggy Dilemmas’. Tony works on training and behaviour on a full-time basis.
Like it or not, we all work for food!! And guess what? Our dogs are no different.
It would be great if your dog learned to sit at the curbside because Rover respects you or because, well, ‘he simply should, shouldn’t he?’ But that’s more like Disney than real life. Dogs need motivating and food is the smart option!
Food is a fantastic reward for any animal because it’s both motivating and provides a positive consequence. The chance to acquire food is what drives a fox to learn several complex chicken runs and rats to chew through brickwork! Food makes for a powerful reward! Have I said, we all work for food?!
Food also puts a positive association to events and chemically alters the brain producing endorphins (happy hormones). It can be used as a lure, to change emotion and as a reward. A positive association to the trainer and the environment where the food is delivered occurs and this is a HUGE bonus in dog training! The same cannot be said of punishment or forceful methods. You want a happy and engaging pupil, right?
A simple daily method is to divide your dog’s dry food meal quota up into a couple of pots or mugs. Have a ‘Morning pot’, and a ‘Evening pot’. You can then use some of the kibble throughout the day. Grab some dry food from the pots at the appropriate time and handfeed it throughout the day and maybe during walks. Carry it in your pocket or in a treat bag. Don’t request too many behaviours, capture them like you are taking a photo. For example, rather than bark, Rover goes to his bed to lie down, you say, ‘good boy’ and give him a piece of his food. Dogs soon repeat what works for them!
Hand-feeding also teaches your dog that hands are good things. Hands provide, they don’t grab, poke or remove. A hand shy dog is an anxious dog and a dog who is likely to either flee or possibly bite.
“To not use food in training puts that trainer, you, at a distinct disadvantage”
I can never understand trainers who refuse to use food. Toys and games shouldn’t be neglected as a reward but they can amp-up a dog. Over excitement is useful in some exercises such as recall but not necessarily when you are teaching household manners or walking nicely on the lead.
To not use food in training puts that trainer, you, at a distinct disadvantage. It is yet another possible reward and it’s a quick and effective way to reinforce the behaviour you want. If you have not yet used this training method to feed your dog, why not give it a go? Ditch the food bowl for two weeks and judge for yourself! You have nothing to lose!