Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.
When can I stop using food treats for training my dog?
It’s a question that comes up time and again in our training classes. I remember asking that very question during my early training career. Interestingly, I never hear the question, “When can I stop punishing my dog for misbehavior?”
What’s wrong with this picture?
We continuously are reinforced by our “boss” telling us what a good job we’re doing when she hands over that check. That paycheck keeps us motivated to go to work each day. What if tomorrow your boss called you into her office and said, “I really like the work you’re doing for our company. I know you love your job, so now I’m not going to pay you anymore, and you can keep coming to work and work just as hard. Your love for the job should be enough.” How long would your personal motivation last? Your good behavior and enthusiasm at work would start to diminish, and you might just start looking for another job. Your work ethic would suffer with no monetary reinforcement, would it not?
Training and reinforcement is a lifelong commitment. Reinforcement builds motivation. It improves the future rate or excellence of a particular behavior. Motivation builds quality compliance. It’s our job as trainers to make sure that we understand the use of motivation and reinforcement in our training sessions. If you are there to cue the behavior, why not reinforce it? You only are adding to the investment in your training plan. Here’s a short story to drive home my point:
My good friend Sandra has a wonderful Whippet named Beretta. Sandra, being a very accomplished trainer, has worked diligently on Beretta’s recall cue. One day, Beretta was lying on the porch while Sandra was visiting with a neighbor across the pasture. An antelope crossed the field, and Beretta was off like a shot full-speed ahead as only a sight hound can. Sandra quickly called, “Beretta, come here!” That Whippet put on the brakes and turned for home. Sandra had nothing in her pocket to reward that amazing recall, so she jollied and praised him all the way to the house, quickly heading for the refrigerator for a jackpot prize. Now that’s what I call a really reliable recall. Without that consistent and valuable reinforcement history, it’s very likely that most dogs would have chased that antelope into the next county.
When you put the time into the training and reinforce it consistently, that effort will be your reward when you really need it.