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Day 66 - The old food debate

100 days Dec 06, 2017

The photo shows my dog's (Mac the Doberperson) reaction to the verbal command 'sit' with and without the addition of positive reinforcement in the form of food (actually a pig's ear, yum). Other than the fact that he's actually performing the requested behaviour in the second photo, what's the main difference between the two?

I've increased his emotional level, yes? He's definitely more focused in the with food photo. It's good news when I'm training Mac - food is very rewarding for him, it raises his emotional level and gets him into the engagement zone. In fact, he trials behaviours almost faster than I can request them - sit, down, up, shake, talk, his entire repertoire comes out in seconds (it's not that big!). 

Food is very motivating for a dog because they are programmed that way. In the wild, where food is scarce, a wild dog can eat 2kg of meat in 15 minutes (actually I think Mac tries this every evening with his dinner). They literally don't know where their next meal is coming from - this makes food very motivating.

Horses, on the other hand, graze for 17 hours a day. Umm, that might make food a little less motivating for them, no? Even the loveliest bit of carrot or handful of oats will never motivate the horse in the same way as almost any type of food does the dog.

I'm not suggesting that you never use food to train your horse, not at all, I use it myself for some things. I'm simply opening the discussion about the pros and cons of it; what we can and can't do with food.

Next time I'll go into this with some examples but in the meantime, pop down to the comments and tell me if you use food to train your horse and if so what behaviours, in particular, do you use food for?

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