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Bribe vs. Reward

"He will only sit if I show him food first."

"She will only come if I say "Treat!".

Seem familiar? This is a common occurence for many pet owners.

One of the most misunderstood concepts in dog training is rewarding our dogs.

Often times, when new client comes to me for training and I talk about using food to reward our dogs, they may initially state that they do not use food as they fear their dog will not obey commands without food being present.

Or, they say they use food as a reward but the dog will only listen when the food has been shown. This can become frustrating to any pet owner.

With any living creature, we HAVE to reward them for the proper behavior to see it happen again. This is called “positive reinforcement” and simply means that we are adding a stimulus to increase the probability of a behavior happening again in the future.

The dog MUST see the reward as something of value. Often time owners will try to get away with a bland, crunchy treat or simply praise/petting. If the dog does not see what you gave it as a reward (even if YOU think it is), they will not repeat the behavior as frequently. Especially around really interesting distractions.

Think of it this way. Let’s say you got a new job, and at the end of the workweek your boss simply tells you “Good Job” as a form of payment. Would you return to work the next day? If you did, would you be as enthusiastic?

When we need to reward our dogs, it needs to be done properly to ensure that the dog becomes obedient to the handler.

There is a difference between rewarding and bribing our dogs.

Bribing is when a stimulus is presented to initiate a behavior after the dog knows the behavior. For example, if we want our dog to sit, bribing them would be showing them a treat or toy, then cueing them to do the task.

Stimulus -> Creates Compliance -> Dog is obedient to stimulus

Bribing should not be confused with luring during the teaching phase, because in order to teach many behaviors we first have to lure the dog to show the desired behavior, then name it. However, after the learning phase is completed we need to increase our criteria. Otherwise progress will not be made and one will become stuck.

The definition of a reward is a thing given in recognition of one's service, effort, or achievement.

So in order to properly reward our dogs, the stimulus must be presented after the desired task is complete. For example, We cue our dog to sit and the dog sits without the reward being shown. We then give the reward for the task being completed.

Cue -> Creates Reward -> Dog is obedient to the cue

By simply understanding these concepts and applying them within training, you will find that it will change the way your dog perceives rewards. This will significantly improve their willingness to please and work with you.

-Maureen Mickel Owner and Lead Trainer of Spirited K9 in Blue Ridge, GA

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