Why Food Is King in Training!

In this blog, Maureen Patin, CPDT-KA will explain the advantages of using food in training.

There’s a lot of behavior science behind the training methodologies we use at WAGD. We consider it our job to study and interpret all of that to help you both make sense of it and to know how to apply it to your dog.

The use of food in training is one of those areas. Food has a big advantage because it is very motivating for most dogs. If it isn’t motivating for your dog, that usually just means we need to play around with different foods or ways of delivering it.

BUT what most people don’t know is the other HUGE advantage to using food in training. Food is naturally calming to dogs. When we use food to modify a behavior it gives us the opportunity to create a new emotional response to a scenario, one of calm and contentment.

There are two big categories of behavior science that we leverage, Operant and Classical Conditioning. Classical Conditioning (thank you, Pavlov) is simply the pairing of a particular scenario with something positive or not so positive. Pretty soon the dog responds to the scenario itself in the way that he responds to the positive or not so positive thing that follows.

While Operant Conditioning (like clicker training) is what we use to train new behaviors, Classical Conditioning is the best way to deal with most behavior problems.

If my dog barks when the door bell rings, the best way to modify that behavior is to practice ringing the doorbell, then immediately throwing a handful of food on the floor. After a reasonable number of reps, you’ll notice your dog is now anticipating the food when she hears the doorbell. She is calm and happy. To maintain that Emotional Response to the doorbell, you’ll need to continue to sometimes throw food when the doorbell rings. But especially with a puppy who didn’t have years of practicing barking at the doorbell, you won’t need to throw food very often to maintain the new Conditioned Emotional Response of calmness. Pretty cool, huh?