The Use of Food in Dog Training

Discussion in 'Dog Training: Principle and Practice' started by editor, Feb 12, 2016.

  1. editor

    editor Administrator

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    This forum promotes and supports the use of modern positive reinforcement dog training techniques. To younger folk and to those that have been taught positive reinforcement training from the start, the use of food in dog training is completely normal and natural. But to many people in their forties and over, the use of food is seen as some kind of weakness or failing

    A lot of people are put off positive reinforcement training because of taboos and concerns about training dogs with food. These include the fears that the training is cheating, or that they will be seen as soft or soppy, and the fear that training with food may not be effective (as in bribery).

    I know when I first started clicker training, I used it very selectively for a few skills, and studiously avoided the wider use of food lest I should join the ’soppy brigade’ of dog trainers who are not serious about training successfully or having well mannered dogs

    People are often pulled two ways. As punishment becomes increasing frowned upon and unacceptable, and our dogs become more important members of our families, we want to leave punishment behind. Yet at the same time, we are reluctant to join what is seen by some as the ‘trick and treat’ movement.

    The reaction may be to attempt to train without punishment, and without food. After all, a good dog will work for praise alone right? Well, I tried this and failed. And everyone else who tried it has failed too. I have never seen anyone genuinely training with praise alone who has succeeded in genuinely training without aversives.

    In addition, studies have now shown that praise alone is ineffective in modifying canine behavior. Praise accompanied by physical contact has some effect, but food has too many advantages to ignore. Not only do dogs regard it more highly than petting and affection (something we may find hard to accept), it is portable, and quick / easy to deliver and consume, so you can train at a fast pace and without losing the flow or concentration of the dog.

    Another common reaction to the desire to leave punishment behind while avoiding the use of food, is to use punishment - usually mild punishment - and kid yourself you are not doing so. I tried this too. But ultimately all it does is slow down the speed at which your improve your positive reinforcement skills

    The fact is, positive reinforcement training uses food. It also uses toys and other rewards, but in early training it uses food. Lots of food.

    The appeal of positive reinforcement training is the amazing pleasure it give you and your dogs, the speed of early learning and the ability to abandon punishment altogether - which is something that gives many people great pleasure and fulfillment.

    Here is the bottom line. You cannot be a positive reinforcement trainer that doesn’t ever use food. If you want to try leaving punishment behind, you are going to have to suck it up and learn how to train with food and with other rewards that are regarded as valuable by your dog. So here are some articles to hep you

    How to use and choose effective rewards for your dog http://thehappypuppysite.com/how-to-use-and-choose-effective-rewards-to-train-your-puppy/

    Positive Dog Training Methods - Are We Spoiling Our Puppies http://thehappypuppysite.com/positive-dog-training-methods-are-we-spoiling-our-puppies/

    Reinforcement in Dog Training http://thehappypuppysite.com/reinforcement-in-dog-training/

    Dog Training - When Treats Don’t Work http://thehappypuppysite.com/dog-training-when-treats-dont-work/
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2016
  2. JulieT

    JulieT Registered Users

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    I trained Charlie to go round a chair in the garden using praise alone. Of course, it's not really possible to 'only' use praise, because you are there, with your dog, and social interaction is part of that. Charlie will respond to social interaction in the form of play even without toys.

    But, it took FOREVER. Partly because I couldn't effectively communicate with Charlie what it was that I wanted, and partly because after a few goes, Charlie would wander off and wouldn't stay engaged with a repetitive drill when the reward was praise and social interaction. Using food (or toys) Charlie will stay engaged until the cows come home....

    The experiment certainly convinced me that attempting to train with praise is completely impractical and ineffective.
     
  3. niclibrarylady

    niclibrarylady Registered Users

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    Thank you for this I will show my OH, as he hasn't quite got it. This weekend I have left over lamb as my training partner
     
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  4. editor

    editor Administrator

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    Yes, you can certainly initiate simple behaviors with praise, because we initiate behaviors in a distraction free zone and praise is attention, which is better than nothing at all. But they cannot be proofed, which is the most crucial and critical part of the training process. :)
     
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  5. Newbie Lab Owner

    Newbie Lab Owner Registered Users

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    Although I agree with what you have said, I also think many young people have been influenced by TV shows. I my self was but I'm of the above 50 generation.
    As Dexter is our first dog, I made the mistake of thinking the way of a TV show I'd watched for many years was the way to go. How wrong was I, it made matters worse and I started to google the problems I was having as many many people, even young ones were still telling me that I needed to assert my dominance :rolleyes:.
    Fortunately for me, one of the sites that came up was the Labrador site which led to me joining this forum. It changed my puppies life and mine instantly. Ok not always easy as there's a lot of work to input but I make it fun. I still get exasperated at times but can come on here for positive advice to help find a solution. It is always something I haven't quite got right, not what my pup has got wrong. With the advice I've been given, being a human I am able to generalise and use that advice in other situations, also to take a good look at myself and what I'm doing, see my mistakes, or ask if I can't work it out.
    Positive reinforcement is definitely not the soft option that I thought it was, it's much more about conecting with your puppy/dog and building a close bond and a dog that's a joy to be with.
    I don't know anyone on here personally but feel that I have gained many friends.
    Pippa, you are an absolute diamond for starting this site and I for one can not put into words how much it means to me. Thank you so much :)
     
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  6. editor

    editor Administrator

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    Thanks Donna - that means a great deal :)
     
  7. Newbie Lab Owner

    Newbie Lab Owner Registered Users

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    Oh yes, the proofing. When I'm having a troublesome time I often get that lightbulb moment and realise 'I have not proofed this', a situation has arisen and it's not at the stage I'm at with Dexter's training. I have to go back to basics, like stream treating for a heel when in a very new and exciting place or even further back to a sit with lots of treats, or if it's too much, come away and try again in the same place on a quieter day. For a novice like me, it's about the positive rewards I get out of helping my puppy to cope in the hustle and bustle of our world by positively rewarding him. It gives you time to slow the pace of life which is often far to fast and be in the present moment.
     
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  8. MaccieD

    MaccieD Guest

    I think many of us fall into that trap. If it's on TV it must be right/the way to go otherwise why would the TV companies put it on. I have spent some time pointing out to my OH what is wrong with a certain TV trainer's methods. Initially he couldn't see what was wrong with the methods compared to what I was saying. They seemed to work didn't they? My response consistently was OK so would you use those methods on Juno? For some reason the answer was always No.
     
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  9. Emily

    Emily Supporting Member Forum Supporter

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    Yep, totally agree! I dread to think where Ella and I would be without the knowledge and information in the books, on the website and this forum.
     
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  10. charlie

    charlie Registered Users

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    I have watched a certain trainer on TV only because it confirms 100% that I am doing the right thing for my dogs only using positive methods and get results :) x
     
  11. Snowshoe

    Snowshoe Registered Users

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    I think several of us began to appreciate the value of food as a reward in my first class with Oban, where two dogs did not respond at all to food. The LabxBC (must have been the BC predominating here, he looked mostly Lab) had to play Tug. The poor, poor lady with the Siberian Husky, oh we felt sorry for her. That dog had to have tummy rubs. Lying down on the floor tummy rubs. While the rest of our class could reward almost immediately with a food treat or slightly slower (because the dog had to go to the owner) a tug play, she spent the rest of the class working her dog up from lying down on the floor tummy rubs to standing up tummy rubs.
     
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  12. JulieT

    JulieT Registered Users

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    While we are on the subject of food in training....I do get a bit depressed when I hear positive trainers say there is no such thing as a dog that isn't motivated by food.

    So, ok, I really do not buy into the statements that a dog completely over threshold, or who has never been trained to 'earn' food and so on can't be motivated by food. That bit is fine, I'm not asking a question about these kinds of situations. I also am not talking about people who are trying to use carrots or ridiculous food rewards.

    But Charlie's motivation to work for a toy clearly and obviously is massively higher than his motivation to work for food. He will work for food, in the house, in the garden and in more distracting environments, but working for a toy is clearly much more rewarding to him.

    I suppose I do buy into the argument that I can balance the distractions with the value of the reward, and could reduce and reduce the distractions until Charlie would work for kibble. But in the real world, that's just not very practical. Charlie finds the environment around him endlessly fascinating, and will often spit out low value food rewards (he won't spit out soft, very tasty, real meat though....). Maybe in an ideal world the solution would be to lower the distractions. But if the distraction is just something like walking along in a field, then just how much lower can I get the distractions without inching out of my garden over a massive amount of time? Chuck a tennis ball though, and I'm done.
     
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  13. editor

    editor Administrator

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    Fortunately, by the time you get to proofing outdoors and in more exciting environments there are usually more possibilities for reinforcing a dog in a variety of ways, whether it is through access to the environment, or through games. And we definitely should use what works for our own dogs - the dog decides what is rewarding after all. I do think this is a lesser problem though.

    The bigger challenge we need to overcome is the large numbers of people who say that their dog isn't food motivated simply because they don't know how to use food effectively. It also a common and unnecessary excuse (and one I used to make myself :) ) for simply avoiding the use of food in training, by people who are afraid of using food for the reasons mentioned above. And who simply don't 'get' that failing to use adequate rewards means using punishment.
     
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  14. JulieT

    JulieT Registered Users

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    Yep, for sure, completely buy that.
     
  15. Stacia

    Stacia Registered Users

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    I have one Lab who turns his head away from treats because he wants the tennis ball. The other Lab, isn't the slightest interested in the tennis ball and loves food rewards!
     
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  16. charlie

    charlie Registered Users

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    Failing to use food rewards effectively, a little confused, does that mean the value of the treat or how it is given? Hattie would balance on one leg for a crumb whereas Charlie had to be trained to take food for any training and will sometimes spit the treat out :confused: x
     
  17. JulieT

    JulieT Registered Users

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    I think using food rewards effectively is much more than just choosing food your dog likes, and delivering it.

    It's about getting the right behaviour (often using food as a lure), marking that behaviour with great timing, and delivering the food in the right way. It's also about training your dog to learn to work for food. Avoiding using food as a bribe or as a management tool (rather than training), and understanding that the objective is to create a trained response, not food vs distraction. Also, understanding what your dog refusing food means - it usually means something.

    Having said all that, I still slightly struggle with the fact that other rewards outweigh food for my Charlie - but so long as I'm training effectively with rewards, and avoiding punishment, I suppose that's not too worrying.
     
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  18. charlie

    charlie Registered Users

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    I know with Hattie I have achieved marking the right behaviour and my timing is pretty good but I'm not sure what delivering the food in the right way means :confused: She has learned to work for food. She would not consider retrieving or a toy as reward in any way, shape or form though.

    When Charlie refuses food I think it's due to his surroundings as he wouldn't refuse food indoors. He has learned to work for food for recall and stop whistle, heel work so has he been conditioned? I would be so chuffed if Charlie would work for other rewards such as retrieving :rolleyes:

    Sorry for the questions but I find it quite difficult to get my head round. In my eyes (simple I know :rolleyes: ) dog does something you want dog gets reward everyone's a winner.

    I hope that as long as I'm getting the behaviour I want in a kind way I must be doing it correctly. :)
     
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  19. JulieT

    JulieT Registered Users

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    I think if you end up with reliable trained behaviours, without using punishment, you are doing something right!

    There are many ways to deliver food. You can post it in your dog's mouth (bad). You can offer it (good). You can throw it, you can use it to set the dog up for the next movement, you can feed in position so the dog doesn't move after the click. There is quite a lot to the delivery of the treat.
     
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  20. editor

    editor Administrator

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    The use of food or any other reinforcement, can be varied in many ways.
    In addition to what Julie has already said, perhaps the most common way to mess up is to reinforce too infrequently. You see this a lot in heel work where people are learning to move around with the dog in the heel position. They fail because their rate of reinforcement is too slow and this stops them getting the behavior started. The same applies to 'sit-stays'. People get frustrated and start to use corrections because they are feeding the dog too infrequently. See treat streaming

    Again, I think it is partly to do with the reluctance to be using food at all, and the feeling that we should 'get past it' as soon as possible. Using food effectively is a kind of mind shift on the part of the trainer as much as anything else. Especially for cross over trainers like me. I have made a lot of 'mind shifts' where food is concerned over the last few years :)

    And if you are succeeding Helen, then you must be doing it in the right way, for your dog, and for the skills you are teaching her. :)
     
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