Food re­wards: Way to a dog’s heart IS through its stom­ach

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Trends -

Why train your dog with food re­wards? A grow­ing body of re­search says it’s the eas­i­est and most ef­fec­tive way to train. “Us­ing treats dur­ing train­ing is the best way to guar­an­tee that your dog will re­peat the be­hav­ior you want,” says the Amer­i­can Ken­nel Club.

Other meth­ods don’t work as well, ex­perts say, and can even harm your dog and the pet-owner re­la­tion­ship. Erica Feuer­bacher, an assistant pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of an­i­mal and poul­try sci­ence at Vir­ginia Tech, did a study that com­pared a food re­ward to the re­ward of pet­ting and praise. Dogs were clear about what they pre­ferred: “They’ll work harder and re­spond faster for food than for so­cial in­ter­ac­tion,” she says.

Dogs love to be with us, but our mon­key chat­ter doesn’t mean that much to them. Feuer­bacher has found that dogs will stay near a per­son who’s prais­ing them for the same amount of time as if they’re be­ing ig­nored. And if you want your dog to obey be­cause they love you, get real.

“If only it was like that!” says Zazie Todd, au­thor of the forth­com­ing ‘Wag: The Sci­ence of Mak­ing Your Dog Happy’. “If your boss stopped pay­ing you, you’d prob­a­bly stop go­ing to work pretty quickly. You need to mo­ti­vate your dog too.”

Dog train­ers also talk about “life re­wards” like get­ting to play or go for a walk. These can be use­ful, es­pe­cially to main­tain be­hav­iors you’ve al­ready trained, but take longer. “For most ev­ery­day be­hav­iors that or­di­nary peo­ple want to teach, food is quicker and eas­ier,” says Todd.

“You want to find a trainer who’s us­ing mod­ern re­ward-based meth­ods, and that means they’ll be us­ing food to train a dog,” she says.

Con­sider the al­ter­na­tives that don’t in­volve re­wards. Pun­ish­ment also works to change be­hav­ior.

How­ever, re­search has shown that us­ing pun­ish­ment in dog train­ing has se­ri­ous side ef­fects. “The risks in­clude fear, anx­i­ety and stress,” says Todd. While some dogs will work for just a por­tion of their kib­ble, for most you have to of­fer some­thing bet­ter. Feuer­bacher says, “Break out the spray cheese or liv­er­wurst. Peo­ple may need to be cre­ative.”


Re­search shows that train­ing dogs with food is more ef­fec­tive than us­ing other re­wards, like praise, and doesn’t have the risks of al­ter­na­tive meth­ods

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