Help! My dog won’t ____ unless I have a treat!

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

The use of food is a great way to motivate and reinforce behaviors, however there are a few reasons why learned behaviors may devolve when food is not immediately available or visible.

It’s Not a Treat

You will notice throughout this post that I refrain from calling the use of food a “treat” as the definition of “treat” fundamentally does not apply to the topic of this post.

Treat (n.) - [1] the act of providing another with free food, drink, or entertainment; [2] an especially unexpected source of joy, delight, or amusement.

When utilizing food in training and behavior modification, it is both expected and not free. It is an exchange for the exertion of effort, and a positive reinforcer acting to increase the probability that a desirable behavior will be performed again in the future. Food is a primary reinforcer, in that it requires no learning to be appetitive which makes it a powerful tool for increasing behavior.

All that said, the food you use should be something your dog truly enjoys or it will not carry the reinforcement value it needs to be effective. Rewards should be enjoyed!

Motivation Keep in mind that many of the behaviors that we ask of our dogs are unnatural, most dogs are not innately motivated to learn and perform these behaviors. Dogs can be motivated to perform behaviors for a variety of intrinsic and extrinsic factors such as; social interaction, exploration, tactile stimulation, and more! If we do not address the fue