Each Monday during the month of September, we're going to tackle a new myth about positive reinforcement training. The back to school time of year seemed like a good time to introduce a new, educational series of information.
To kick the Mythbusting Miniseries off, here's our first myth!
In a nutshell, positive reinforcement means rewarding our SideKicks for doing something we like (and want to see more of). Rewards can be anything your SideKick likes: toys, petting, praise, baby voice - anything.
For a lot of dogs, though, the best reward is a food treat of some sort. Food is the by far the best way to get most dogs to pay attention and to motivate them to participate in learning. Therefore, food is a tool we can use in training - just like a clicker, a front-clip harness, etc. And it's not a tool that we need/want to use always and forever.
When addressing the myth that using treats is just bribery, it's important to note the difference between bribing and rewarding (or reinforcing).
Bribery involves offering your SideKick the food to get them to do something for you. "If you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."
A dog, who is accustomed to bribery in their training, will likely only do the behaviors we ask for when they see the treat or see the food we have to offer. The pattern is always see the treat, then do the behavior.
Rewarding, however, is giving your SideKick the food treat only after they've finished the behavior you're looking for. "That was well done; here's a reward for your efforts!"
A dog, who is accustomed to rewards in their training, will offer behaviors whether or not it is obvious that a treat is available. The pattern has always been that good things have come after doing the requested behavior.
Rewarding with food, instead of bribing our SideKicks with food, also makes it easier to phase out the food treats later on and use other rewards - like the rewards mentioned earlier.
Another way of looking at rewards: Would you go to work if you weren't paid for it? I doubt it!
Keep the ball rolling and read about Myth #2!