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 behaviour you want,” the American Kennel Club says.
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 said.
Dogs do 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 just because they love you, get real, says Zazie Todd, author of the forthcoming book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy.
“If only it was like that!” Todd said.
“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 behaviours you’ve already trained, but are more complicated and take longer.
“For most everyday behaviours that ordinary people want to teach, food is quicker and easier,” Todd said.
“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.”