ShareThis Page

Food with thought: Reinforcement is key to good dog training

| Wednesday, April 8, 2015, 9:01 p.m.
Andrea Lamping
Andrea Lamping

“Don't use too many treats or your dog will only work when you have food.”

“A dog should listen because you are his master, not because you have a treat.”

These are common misconceptions that I hear regularly from pet owners — even pet professionals.

Food actually is a great tool to use for conditioning our beloved canines. Training falls apart when there is not a proper reinforcement strategy in place. Think about how well you would perform at your job with no paycheck, bonuses or feedback.

So, should you use food rewards to train your dog? Absolutely. However, there are some things to remember.

1. Food should not be the only reward available to your dog. All dogs are different, so make a list of 10 things that your dog enjoys and use all of them to reinforce desired behaviors. Toys, games, exercise, walks, play time and socialization are good examples.

2. Don't bribe. Use a food lure the first few times, then give the dog a hand signal and follow up with a reward from your bait bag or pocket.

3. You should use a lot of rewards and reinforcement during the first stages of learning a new behavior. Then, when your dog catches on, start acting more like a slot machine — giving really big, memorable rewards (jackpots) for the times he completely nails it. This makes your dog addicted to your approval and eager to keep working hard for you.

4. Have your dog work for his food; no more food bowl left on the floor all of the time. This will eliminate extra calories from unhealthy treats. Save the treats for surprise rewards when your dog is offering fantastic performance.

5. When exposing your dog's skills to new distractions and destinations, be sure to increase the amount of rewards and praise at first so that he easily translates his previous knowledge to the new environment.

Andrea J. Lamping trains dogs in the greater airport area, including Sewickley, Moon, Robinson and Hopewell. She can be reached at 724-984-7829 or visit her website at

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.