Benefits of Reward-Based Training: Beyond the Bribery Myth

Unskilled trainers, seeking to justify their use of aversive equipment, have said many incorrect things about reward-based training. One such pearl of wisdom I have heard lately is:

“Using treats to train is “bribing” the dog. Dogs should follow commands as a sign of duty and respect. Who is the pack leader – them or you?”~ Bloke up the road

This indicates a lack of knowledge on how training actually works. And also on the difference between a bribe and a reward. Don’t even get me started on being a pack leader.

A bribe, or even a promise, is an arrangement made before the action is taken, in an attempt to sway the dog’s actions in a way that you deem desirable. Sometimes with humans, bribes can be offered to solicit another into doing something illegal or unsavoury.

This could mean the dog only does things when they see a treat in your hand. It might also take them a lot longer to work out appropriate (for us) behaviours in some situations, and therefore longer to think of making the “right choices” by themselves.

“I will give you this £20, if you wash my car, just don’t tell your brother.”
“See this treat? Come back here away from that other dog, and you can have it!!”

We give rewards upon the completion of the event. The reward remains hidden, perhaps in a tub or pouch, until after the action has been taken.

This leads to the dog learning to follow the cue while you have NO food in your hand. They also learn that certain actions mean a reward is to follow and so they are more likely to do that action again in the future. This results in a dog with improved decision-making skills.

“Oh, you washed my car! I’m so pleased with your work. Well done. Here, have £20! “
“You ignored that other dog! You are such a good dog!! Here, have this treat!”

“Aha,” I hear the aversive users cry, trying to catch me out.”What about luring? “The dog sees the treat in your hand and follows it, while you get them to do stuff. Then they get the treat. That is bribery.”

No, that’s not quite accurate.

The lure in the baited hand is a powerful tool used to effectively guide and train dogs. It providing a clear direction for them to follow in response to a vocal command or hand signal. This is then followed by a reward from an external source (the other hand). This technique allows for precise and reliable communication during dog training sessions.

Eg. Encourage the dog to learn a new cue “lay down” by holding a treat in front of their nose and use a gentle, patient approach. Gradually lower the treat until the dog follows it to the ground and lays down, ready to be rewarded with a treat from the other hand.

Once the dog has performed the action, the trainer takes a reward from a pouch or pot and gives it with the OTHER (unbaited) hand. In this way, the trainer rewards the dog for following the lure instead of giving the lure to them.

After a few successful attempts, the trainer confidently hides the lure treat and simply uses an empty hand to demonstrate to the dog what to do. After the job is completed, you give the reward using the other hand.

The dog promptly carries out the cue, triggering the delivery of a well-earned reward.

So luring is not bribery. Luring is guiding. And luring is temporary, as the dog learns what to do.

Once a dog has become extremely proficient at following a cue, we begin a “differential reinforcement” schedule. This involves mixing up the rewards, so the dog doesn’t know what they will be getting. This keeps the dog interested in following the cue.

For example, if a dog always gets cheese, soon cheese becomes less rewarding:

  • The cheese might bore the dog,
  • They may feel satiated and full up.
  • They might even go off cheese and then cheese becomes a punisher.
  • They could begin to think, “well, I’ll be getting my cheese anyway, so I will follow the cue in a minute when I have finished eating this dead, maggot infested, rotting rabbit roadkill”

If the dog gets no reward at all, then what is there to compete with the dead rabbit delicacy? Other than a tight-wad human who thinks dogs should do things out of “duty” but gives them nothing fun in return, or will offer desperate pleas and bribery as a last resort.

Or with a differential reinforcement schedule, sometimes the dog might get cheese.

  • Sometimes it might be ham.
  • Sometimes it might be a throw of the ball.
  • Sometimes you might whip out a tuggy chaser.
  • Sometimes a frisbee.
  • Sometimes a verbal “good dog” and a gentle stroke, or a fuss.
  • Sometimes let them go and sniff, or chase or do dog things with your blessing.

By keeping the dog uncertain, they are more prone to following cues in hopes of hitting the jackpot. They won’t get bored or satiated. The dog might even pick you over the bug-infested Bugs Bunny because you have more going for you. You do not need bribery. You need a good relationship with your dog where they know you are the best deal.

Reward-based training is great for dogs, and their owners because it helps them learn effectively. Bribery just teaches our dogs to look at our hands before they decide to do anything.

There is an abundance of studies examining the relationship between our treatment of animals and their behaviour and health, in training and beyond. Modern dog professionals and organisations teach ethical methods as standard.

Dogs are sentient animals who think and feel, who have emotions, wants, needs, dislikes, desires. As dogparents, it is essential we recognise our dogs for the individuals that they are and respect their right to choose to join in with us, and reward them when they do. It is also vitally important in behaviour cases, to ask “what does the dog get from doing this behaviour” instead of blindly trying to make them stop.

Bribery is trying to make them stop/do something by promising something in return. Fun Not Fear® teaches us to help our dogs navigate the world with reward-based, force-free and games based training methods. It also tells us to try to understand the dog and their actions, rather than simply trying to bend the dog to our will.

  • Reward-based training enhances the bond between dog and trainer.
  • Dogs learn faster and understand cues better through positive associations and enjoyable lessons.
  • Reward-based training helps dogs make better decisions and behave more confidently and resiliently.
  • Consistent rewards create a harmonious relationship of trust and respect between dogs and dogparents.
  • Reward-based training produces longer lasting behavioural changes when compared to aversive methods. Aversive methods often require increasing aversiveness to maintain effectiveness. Reward-based training has no downward spiral into fear and pain.
  • It decreases negative side effects such as stress and anxiety, leading to a sustained positive outlook.
  • Variety in rewards caters to individual preferences and motivation, leading to fun and interesting learning for both dog and dogparent.

Reward-based training creates well behaved and responsive dogs while fostering trust and understanding. Why teach them the millions of things “not” to do, when you can easily reward them for the one “right” thing and get more of that?

Who remembers the asshole teachers at school, who always moaned and smelled funny, and did better work for the good ones who brought in doughnuts and made your lessons fun? Let’s be the second teacher for our dogs.

The Fun Not Fear® Club. Available in all formats on Amazon.

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