Why Bribing Your Dog Isn’t Efficient for Training – Dog Training DC Blog

Why Bribing Your Dog Isn’t Efficient for Training – Dog Training DC Blog

Lots of trainers love to say that the only way you can train a dog is with treats or all positive reinforcement. Don’t get me wrong, I love giving my own or a clients’ dog a treat.  However, a treat is exactly what the word implies, something that is given freely (kind of like that Cupcake from Georgetown Cupcake that you really enjoyed last weekend). You didn’t make yourself (well most of you) run a marathon, bike a 100 miles or anything else to earn that reward. You wanted it. Don’t deny it. We all do it 😉

6 month old Elsa doing her first long distance down stay without a leash. Elsa was not trained with an all positive method but she certainly LOVES training and she clearly “gets”it!

Dogs are no different. Using treats to bribe your dog to do what you want also makes the association that the treat is more valuable than the action. Dogs place a value on things that interest them, treats, toys, whatever. If the treat is worthy of their attention the likelihood is that they will do what you want. If, however, the value of that treat is not as great as that SQUIRREL why would your dog follow a command? I’ve seen plenty of treat trained dogs take after small vermin, tree leaves whatever it is, to the chagrin of their owners who are usually standing there with a treat in hand. No denying that squirrel is pretty awesome to your dog.   

I don’t mean to say that treats can’t be an inherently good part of your training, but relying on them for a behavior to change means that you are only continuously rewarding bad behavior. You can’t change things that are problematic by only treating your dog. B.F. Skinner, the eminent behaviorist and psychologist, established through his research that randomized, variable schedule of reinforcement is more effective than a continuous reinforcement schedule to change behavior. The studies show that people and animals alike have a response to randomized treat reinforcement that shows excitement levels on par with winning a lottery or other excitable event. The lack of surprise in a continuous reinforcement schedule causes lackadaisical associations with the treat. The expectation of the treat becomes less important the more frequently it is received. (If you want more information I would refer you to the Steven R Lindsay book “Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior: Volume 1).

Balancing out your dog’s training ensures that you teach your dog how to respond appropriately to stimuli and events. You have to teach them both the pros and the cons of their behavior. Relying on one method to train your dog, treats or clicker just denies them the chance to be all that they can be.

If you want to learn more about my Dog Training DC programs please give me a call at 202.318.1380. Always remember change is possible!