Why a Hungry Dog Isn’t Such a Bad Thing; Why Treat Training Works and Shock Training Can Backfire
I try to keep My Dogs Thin. Thanks Alison Morin for the Photo of my Boy Jovi
I can’t tell you how often I hear… “My dog won’t take treats during training”
“My dog doesn’t like treats”.
And, whereas there are lots of motivators and nontraditional motivators for more on those nontraditional motivators click here that you can choose from food is a strong motivator to any living thing.
I Think Sometimes People Don’t Want to Use Food
I think sometimes people don’t want to use food.
There is such a stigma attached to using food or treats in training.
People imagine fat dogs begging at the table or a dog that only listens if you have a full hot dog dangling from your fingers.
The truth is that food is a valuable resource and asset when it comes to training if you use it correctly.
Let me bold that…
IF YOU USE IT CORRECTLY
If you misuse food, you will see poor results and can reinforce bad behavior. For more on misusing treats and understanding how to use them more appropriately click here
I recently had this discussion with a reader on our site. She didn’t want to use treats, she only wanted to use praise or correction.
I think that severely limits your skill in training to the best of your ability, and limits your training tools.
Plus using treats (if you do it right) see above really has no negative nor will it traumatize your dog like other tools that I prefer stay OUT of my training bag i.e. shock collar, prong collar, etc.
The Key For These Hard to Motivate Dogs is Hunger
A fat satiated dog doesn’t need to work for food; food isn’t a motivator if you have free access to it!
Let me say that again…
A Fat Dog Doesn’t Need to Work for Food
I recently reviewed a research study on rats from 1948 (yes 1948) that was really interesting and still pertinent in dog training.
It is called Motivation and Reward in Learning performed by Yale University and Neal A. Miller and Gardner L. Hart and I have to say it was very interesting.
I remember reading some of these studies in school because they relate to learning, not just in rats but other animals and humans as well.
At first a hungry rat (they say VERY hungry… which is kind of sad, I think basic hungry will do although I am not sure how long the rat went without food) and a satiated rat are put in a box.
The hungry rat learns to move around (because he is hungry) and pulls the lever. The satiated rat (or rat that had food in his box/house all of the time)just curls up in a ball and sleeps with little to no interest in testing his environment.
Fat Rat Vs. Hungry Rat
This would be like trying to train and work with a dog that has free access to food all of the time and is not hungry. There is no real reason to work and learn if you don’t want to.
But the hungry dog would be motivated to learn and work with his owner, while the satiated dog may not be (note: not all dogs need to be HUNGRY some dogs have a natural food motivation), this is for dogs that are hard to motivate with food.
Next the satiated rat was shocked to get him to move and show drive so he could learn.
I remember when I was a kid reading about these “experiments” I always felt sorry for the shocked rat. I wouldn’t want to be shocked!
And, even though in the video it says the rats were only “irritated” by the shock and not hurt, you can see the rat jumping and climbing and trying to get away from it; hence the reason the rat finally does what he is supposed to and pulls the lever.
This Reminds Me of the Ever Popular Shock Collar Method
This reminds me of dog trainers who say shock collars don’t hurt, or they just irritate the dog, or that these collars can be used for positive; my opinion is that it hurts just like you can see that it hurts the rat.
They say that the satiated rat that is shocked learns faster (probably because it hurts and his “drive” to stop the pain is greater) but this certainly isn’t the relationship I would want with my dog.
Because just like the trainer I was speaking to, if she didn’t want to use toys and treats, only wanted to use praise and touch then she probably had to employ negative methods like the prong, choke or shock collar. She assured me her dogs were happy, (and in some ways I am sure they are because MOST dogs are happy, they are just happy creatures) but I bet they dislike being hurt or “corrected” just like the rat doesn’t like being shocked.
Next you can see that they shape the rat’s behavior with shocks to bite a wire. In the video you can see that the rat nearly bites through the wire… my guess is that is because the shock hurts and biting is a way of alleviating the pain and is a more natural behavior.
I believe that this is why some dogs will bite their owners when they use shock collars. Not all dogs do, some react alright, some are scared, some develop ulcers, and some react with aggression to stop the pain.
Finally the rats are taught that if they attack one another the shock goes away. They quickly learn to fight, again I believe it is because of pain and frustration as well as learning.
This video perfectly illustrates why I train the way I do.
I hate watching an animal in pain, and if I can alleviate that by simply making him work for his food, skipping a meal, making him work for a living for his food (click here for why that is good) or just using treats and toys I would rather do that than employ tools that hurt and cause aversion.
And, let me say “hungry” doesn’t mean “starving” starving is abuse, hunger is simply your body saying it’s ready to or wanting to eat.
Want to review the video and the study to follow along with my thinking process click here https://archive.org/details/Motivati1948 ! But do be prepared to be a little sad for these rats.
What do you think?
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.