Food For Thought

"I don't want to bribe my animals to do things, they should just do it because they love/respect me"

So how do you explain the shock collar, choke chain, prong collar, water spray bottle, whip, crop, swinging lead rope, can of coins, yelling, pushing, a smack on the butt, etc.? Is that not then, coercion? In training, when used correctly, food is a reward, not a bribe.

"I don't want to have to carry food around with me all the time"

Said the dog trainer with the shock collar remote in hand, the horse trainer with the whip or crop in hand, and the elephant trainer with the elephant hook in hand. Really.

"I don't want my relationship with my pet to be all about food."

Getting married? There will probably be a reception where they will serve food. Going out on a date? Probably to dinner. Movies? Yea, a side of popcorn with that. Meeting up with a friend? Probably for lunch or dinner. Friends coming over? Probably for dinner. What do families usually get together for despite their busy lives? A meal. First bonding period between mom & baby? Nursing. Business luncheon? Conference? They'll probably have donuts, at least. After church? Refreshments with the other members. Sunday football? Yea, nachos, wings and beer with that. Your dog sat when you asked him to? He gets a food treat. Oh wait, sorry, I forgot... you don't want your relationship with your dog to be about food.

Sometimes, when I first start working with an animal, it is all about the food. Scared, wild, and/or abused animals need a reason to approach me, a reason to trust me. Food helps to establish that initial connection, but over time, as the animal learns to trust me, a relationship grows independent of the food. There is something about learning that seems to have a natural appeal to all animals. Whenever I am working with a new animal, there is a moment in the training when something magical occurs; a subtle shift in the animal's motivation. I can always tell when it stops being all about the food and starts being all about the excitement of learning something, of suddenly realizing that on some level we are connecting and communicating.

One last one, especially for those horse people out there...

"Training your horse with treats will make him pushy".

Saddles make horses buck. Anybody who has ever started a horse under saddle has experienced this, and yet I've never heard anyone say that we shouldn't use saddles because they make horses buck. We just teach the horse not to buck. So we teach the horse not to mug for food. The really fun part? We teach them not to mug for food...with food!

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