Courteous Canine: Motivate with Food
by Jane Finneran, Certified Dog Trainer
OK, here it is: The number-one tip from the pros. Dog show people use it, movie trainers use it, and modern dog trainers use it.
Food! Yes, that’s right. Give dogs what they want, and they want food. Meat is the currency of the dog world. So use little pieces of chicken, liver, or slivers of hot dogs.
I have had clients bring large, 80-pound-plus dogs for a lesson and tell me that the dog “doesn’t listen.” The dog is not deaf. The problem is that client is trying to explain to the dog what to do using three-paragraph essays, when everyone knows dogs do better with bullet points. I can almost always get the large dog to do what I want with a lure (food in hand) and eventually just a hand signal.
Students in class will tell me that they do not want to use treats. They think the dog should just “do it.”
“Why?” I always ask. “I want a paycheck for my work. So does the dog!”
Eventually, if the relationship develops the dog will cooperate. But initially, I want to make myself very important to the dog and there is no easier way than a pocket of treats. Consider the treats as the pay check.
In his recent book How Dogs Love Us, Gregory Berns actually showed on an MRI how a dog’s brain lights up in anticipation of a treat. Think about that–not the treat but the anticipation of it excited the dog. Treats make training fun for the dog. Training should be fun for the dog and for the owner. Confrontation risks aggression. Using punishment could affect the relationship with the owner in a negative way. But using treats can make a bad thing good.
To give an example, a dog that has never been on a leash can learn to like the leash with some yummy reinforcements. A dog that is afraid of strangers can learn to like them with treats (tossed at first). A dog that does not like its paws touched can learn to tolerate it–yep with treats. The list goes on…
So now you just need to find the right treat. Avoid huge treats that will make your dog gain weight. If your dog has skin allergies, avoid treats with wheat, corn, or soy. And definitely avoid rawhides. Try a variety of treats to make sure it’s something your dog will want to work for. (As a last resort, try tiny pieces of hot dogs. Most dogs like those!)
Jane Finneran, CPDT (Certified Professional Dog Trainer) offers group and private lessons.
A Trained Dog is a Loved Dog