08 April 2014

Doggy Pay Scales

The use of food in dog training

I was chopping up food for my Puppy School and Happy Hounds training classes and the types of food I was preparing got me thinking (and playing about with the halftone photo app)...

Personally, I don't like using the word 'treat' in dog training.  In my opinion we're not 'treating' our dogs; we're paying them for a job and different jobs require different pay scales.

These thoughts resulted in the following photo and a post on my Happy Hounds Facebook page.  The post has proven to be so popular (and as Facebook doesn't share information with Google) I thought I'd share it via my blog!

Image: Dried kibble, chopped cheese and ham, liver cake

Paying our dogs a decent wage:

At my training classes and consultations, I sometimes come across people who are reluctant to use food when training their dogs; they feel that their dogs 'should just do what they are asked' or that they are 'spoiling' their dog by giving them food treats. I don't like to think of the food as a 'treat' - to me, the word 'treat' is synonymous with being spoiled or indulgent (thanks, mainly, to chocolate and luxury goods adverts) - whereas, in reality, food is a dog's pay for doing a job we ask them to do.

I always try to avoid using the word 'treat' in my Happy Hounds Dog Training classes and explain how the food we use in training should be thought of as the dog's pay and I use the concept of 'doggy pay scales' to explain it.

Basic Salary:

Routine jobs may only merit a basic salary - represented by kibble in the photo. A routine 'job' can be a behaviour the dog knows well, or is still learning, but knows well in a certain context - such as practising loose lead walking in your garden, where there are minimum distractions; or waiting politely for you to put the food bowl down before eating.

Enhanced Salary:

When we start increasing the difficulty of the 'job in hand', we need to start paying an 'enhanced salary' (represented by meat and cheese in the photo) - especially if we want to guarantee that our dog learns how to do the job well.

Once you start adding in distractions, distance or duration to a 'job' - you need to increase your dog's salary. Just as different jobs in the human world require different salaries and attract different candidates, the same is true for our canine companions. You need to find the right salary level that works for your dog - to help them succeed. (For some dogs, a tennis ball, or special toy/game may trump cheese/meat - you need to find the right salary for your dog!)

Bonus Pay:

Once your dog knows their 'job' and can reliably perform it on a regular basis, you can then switch to 'bonus pay' (represented by liver cake in the photo). The idea of the bonus pay is that it keeps your dog motivated and ready to perform their 'job' - they may not know when the bonus is coming but it certainly gives a reason to continue doing a job.  (I've a great recipe for liver cake on the blog - here)

Bribes versus Pay:

As for food being a bribe... well, it 'could' be viewed as a bribe when used in luring behaviours  where the food is used as an inducement (the lure) for the dog to perform the cued/desired behaviour.  However, in most cases, the food is delivered after a behaviour/job is completed successfully.  For this, the delivery of the food is contingent on the dog performing the cued/desired behaviour and, to me, this is the equivalent of pay - pure & simple.

I don't think many humans would view their daily/weekly/monthly pay packet as a bribe - do you?!?

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