Customers often ask me whether they have to use feed as a reward. There are many criticisms and rumors regarding feed rewards. At this point I would like to go into the much insulted or at the same time praised food as a form of reward for the behavior of the dog.
Rewards and reinforcements:
If a behavior is strengthened, the dog will show it more often, faster, more intensively or longer in the future. Only what the dog really sees as a reward in a particular situation is a real amplifier.
To find out what really reinforces behavior for the individual dog, it’s a good idea to write down a top 10 list of the dog’s most popular rewards. This does not only mean food. What does the dog show frequently and what does the dog owner call him up from frequently? What people do not like is often the biggest booster for the dog. An example would be digging at the mouse hole, playing with other dogs, etc. If this is linked to a signal, you can use it as a reward.
Depending on the situation and mood, a different reward will be suitable for the individual dog. The task is to find the functional amplifier. This is the amplifier that corresponds to or resembles the function of behavior. If you retrieve the dog from something that can be eaten, food is the right reward. For a dog that watches for prey, watching food in hand can be a reward.
If the dog’s food is at the top of the list of rewards, it will often be a high-quality reward for him – and can therefore be used effectively in training.
Strengths of the feed reward:
If you change the type of feed, then feed can become more than one form of reward. You can’t just give food out of your hand. You can sprinkle food and let the dog look for it. You can throw food. The dog can catch food in the air. You can hide food e.g. in a tree bark, in the foliage, in the apartment, on branches. The dog can watch the food in the hand of the owner.
When working, food can be offered in a kong. There is also a wide range of toys that can be offered filled with food, so that the dog has to deal with it long before he actually eats it. The dog can get the food out of toilet paper rolls, towels and paper in various ways.
In addition, the value of the feed can be varied. Food is not just food. There are feed tubes, cheese, meat, dry food and much more.
Food is a reward that does not have to be built up in many dogs, but has a reward of its own (primary amplifier).
Feed is easy to transport and offer. Humans don’t have to move a lot to feed the dog. This is a great relief for people with restricted mobility.
Another great advantage of the feed is that the place of the reward is also positively linked. If you place a high-quality reward on a dog for which food is a good reward, for example the food reward on a toy, the toy with the food is perceived, thus more exciting and in total upgraded.
If you build tricks, tricks or something similar with the dog, food is an easy to handle reward in training.
Our dogs are mammals. The first bond of her life is the mother bitch who nurses her. That is what mammals in nature have in common. Even we adults cook for each other and say “love goes through the stomach”. Feeding is binding behavior in the mammal. Why should we withhold this attachment behavior from the dog?
Glucose and impulse control
Impulse control is the ability to control oneself. The impulse control can be thought of as a bowl full of marbles. Whenever the dog has to control himself, a marble disappears from the bowl. At some point the bowl is empty. You know that from yourself. After a tiring day of stressful events, one little thing is enough to get you nervously “out of your skin”. A little thing that would not even briefly occupy you on a relaxed morning after a good meal. So we humans also consume our impulse control. However, it takes longer for us than for the dog.
If pulse control is used up, the level of glucose in the blood drops. So there is a connection between impulse control and glucose.
The basis for the blood glucose level is a balanced diet. One third of the feed should consist of high-quality carbohydrates. At B.A.R.F.en you can calculate this yourself. Starving a dog to make it easier to train is one of the things not recommended due to impulse control. Even your mood does not improve when you are hungry … If you are out and about with the dog and the impulse control is noticeably coming to an end, the dog can get glucose quickly. You can give the dog banana chips or carrot slices. Both increase the blood sugar level for a short time.
Not only food is a reward
It is very important that the dog is rewarded in a varied way. The reward should never make people predictable (in the sense of boring) for the dog. If the dog has learned that after a recall, only food from his hand is waiting for him, it may not come again soon. There are several reasons for this: Imagine you go to the cinema and the same film is shown every time. Would you always want to see him? Dogs are no different. If a hunting dog has discovered a prey and the exciting rushing is imminent, then food from the hand is certainly not the right reward. If the dog can choose between the deer and the feed, he will prefer the deer. We can understand that too. If we are looking forward to an entertaining evening, we would certainly not cancel it for a biscuit.
Food alone is not the right reward for fear and / or aggression behavior. If the dog is lured to a trigger with the feed tube or treat, it comes closer and closer to the trigger that it wants to drive away or to flee from. Ever closer, ever closer and if it is too close, the dog can be frightened by the sudden proximity and the aggression behavior can be intensified and fear behavior can turn into aggression. The functional amplifier see above. in this case is creating a distance to the trigger. Under certain circumstances, food can be can be used as an aid to initiate the increase in distance to the trigger, e.g. by throwing it aside for the dog. Food that is offered to the dog after the distance has been enlarged can also act as an emotional icing on the cake.
In very exciting situations, food rewards should be handled with care, as cortisol is released by the body during stress. This inhibits digestion. If the dog continues to be fed in such situations, diarrhea or vomiting may occur. It is also discussed whether a stomach rotation is caused by stress.
The size of the stomach also has limits. It is about the size of the dog’s head, so it is not infinitely expandable.
Frequently mentioned sets of dog owners:
- “I don’t want to bribe my dog”
Let’s first differentiate between bribing and rewarding. Bribing is when you as a person get 100 euros from your boss so that you can do something specific. The reward is when you get the 100 euros for a great achievement from the boss as a bonus. Only after the behavior you have requested will the dog receive the reward. An example of bribery in dogs would be to guide the dog past a distraction with food. The reward would be if, despite distraction, the dog can show the behavior you want and is rewarded for it.
An important element of life is the satisfaction of needs. It makes biological sense to keep an eye out for satisfaction. This is not only the case with dogs, but also with us humans. Dogs are not only in the world to please us. It is important to reward them in a needs-based manner and this includes food for many dogs. And even with dogs that do not generally like to take food, it can be worthwhile to improve this.
- “I don’t want my dog to get too fat”
The dog will only become overweight if you give the reward in addition to the daily amount of food. Simply subtract the feed reward from the daily amount.
- “I don’t want to be addicted to food”
If you reward varied, you do not become dependent on the food, because there are a variety of other rewards available at any time.
- “I don’t want to carry the food around with me”
There are various pouches, bags or vests for carrying the food, in which you can store the food well and cleanly.
- “I’m not an automatic feeder for my dog”
This is often due to the concern that the dog only behaves in order to receive food. Behavior is amplified or inhibited by its consequences. Whether you like it or not, behavior is influenced from outside. It is up to you whether you try to influence your dog’s behavior yourself or whether you want to leave it to the environment. In addition, if you reward diversely, the dog does not always receive food. If the dog shows a lot of your desired behavior just to get a reward from you, it shows a great willingness to cooperate with you, which is a great asset. Isn’t that the goal of successful training with the dog?
Food is not the absolute reward. You can only train effectively if you have many rewards for the dog. Just throwing food at the dog and giving him a bone now and then is not enough activity. If you categorically reject food as a reward, you take away an important component of a successful training for yourself and your dog.