food available to you was a nutrition pellet and the only way to get it is
to wade through a pit of snakes or frogs or spiders, etc..
You might get over your fear of snakes; you might become even more afraid
of the snakes. You might learn to really hate those nutrition pellets.
Now imagine instead that you decide on your own that you want to get over
your fear of spiders. You start with a picture book of spiders. And every
time you looked at a picture, you got a piece of your favorite food (ice
cream, steak, watermelon, etc..). Once you were comfortable with pictures,
you might choose to move on to rubber spiders and so on. And you were
allowed to go at your own pace, stopping the exercise whenever you felt
I think I'd prefer scenario #2 better. And so would our dogs.
A dog example. Let's say we have a dog who is afraid to climb stairs. We
stand at the top of the stairs waiving a steak. The steak is too good to
pass up, so the dog pushes passed his fear and climbs the stairs. But does
the dog actually feel better about the stairs. Maybe. Or the dog could
continue to be afraid of the stairs, might even learn to dislike the steak.
We can use food but we should try to use it as a reward. Instead of waving
the steak in front of the dog and asking her to climb. we should reward the
dog for choosing to walk towards the steps. Then reward the dog for choosing
to touch the bottom step with her paw and so on.
This doesn't just apply to scary things like stairs and nail trims. This
also applies to coaxing a dog to approach humans using food. And for our
shy dogs it might even apply to coaxing them to approach us. Instead of
making them push past their fear to approach for food, we can reward with
food when they choose to approach. Actually a treat/retreat method is even
better. If the dog approaches, toss the treats slightly away from you. The
dog gets food, plus relief from pressure.
See below for what the experts say about coaxing with food
From Laura VanArendonk Baugh's Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out: Training
Crazy Dogs from Over the Top to Under Control
"A puppy following food does not indicate a comfortable puppy, only
attractive food...I sometimes see puppies drawn into an uncomfortable
location by food, and then when the food is gone they look up and
'suddenly' have a fear reaction. .. the fear is not new; we were just
concealing it...If the puppy has to be lured into interaction, something's
wrong!..If the puppy approaches or targets a scary object or person, and
then is reinforced with food, that's different -- that's a contract
fulfilled and it builds...confidence..
VanArendonk goes on to quote Kathy Sdao: " warns of the danger of
'poisoning the food' just as we must be careful of poisoning cues. It's not
too difficult to teach dogs that the presentation of food means something
scary, painful, or otherwise aversive is about to happen- and you've lost
the ability to use a very powerful reinforcer to help train the dog through
Emily Larlham's video “Kitchen
Be sure to see the video at
2:32 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-CCJxF-9U4&t=2m32s she
explains why we don’t bribe with treats. Quote from the video:
“I’m teaching her to love food but still hate this scary environment. You
can habituate her to the floor but she’s never going to like it.“
John Rogerson's, The Dog Vinci Code http://amzn.to/y8Pulr. See page 263:
“Only when your dog shows no fear reaction might you consider rewarding the
dog with a treat. This is always carried out with the visitor throwing the
food treat over the dog to land behind it. That way, if things go wrong, at
least the dog will learn to stand back form the person it was worried about
and not rush up to them. The last thing you want a fearful dog to do is
rush to someone in the expectation of food.”
Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog http://amzn.to/jOa6pp Page 6 and 7 when
speaking about Llamas. “ …The use of retreat, or easing back when the
desired behavior occurs…”
Karen Pryor’s Reaching the Animal Mind http://amzn.to/tRO05M Starting at
page 124: “Instead of luring the animal with food in the hope that greed
may over come caution, you shape the behavior”
About a feral kitten she writes: "I click and flick a tiny piece of tuna
through the bars of the crate next to the cat. Then I step back and wait..
it raises its head a quarter inch. I click and move and flick another piece
of tuna… I do nothing… the cat stands up and takes a step towards me.. I
click and flick a piece of tuna…." Click “feral kitten” to see a video here
Read Dunbar’s Treat/Retreat Article
Emily Larlham’s video http://youtu.be/Jp_l9C1yT1g on dog afraid of
washing machine: “changing the dog’s emotional response to stimuli.”
“Working from low levels to high levels.”
Patricia McConnell’s Love Has No Age Limit http://amzn.to/q5Nwx7 “..
problematic is requiring him to get a food treat by screwing up his courage
and snatching it out of a stranger’s hand….Teach your dog to be happy when…”
From Leslie McDevitt’s DVD – “Control Unleashed – A Foundation
– (paraphrasing) You can’t counter condition well without desensitizing.
The scared dogs are in conflict, they want the food but the person is
scary. It puts too much pressure on the dog.
From Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed: The Puppy
“If your puppy is snatching treats from strangers and gulping them, he is
not learning strangers are great because they feed him treats. He is being
a normal dog by eating when food is available, but he is still stressed
about the stranger so it’s not really helping.”
Patricia McConnell’s The Cautious Canine http://amzn.to/gg5l7h: “have the
stranger drop a treat”
Patricia McConnell’s The Other End of the Leash http://amzn.to/h0LnDQ:
Jean Donaldson’s Oh Behave http://amzn.to/hizLwX: “Tossed, then hand fed
her very high value treats”:
Emily Larlham Video: – Handling
This video is great but a little backwards. The first part of the video has
handling exercises but those should not be attempted until the dog is
comfortable approaching the human. See that part starting at about
5:11 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AElTVoIPlOw&t=5m11s in the video .
Be sure to read the Youtube description below the video
Grisha Stewart’s Behavior Adjustment Training
Clothier http://www.suzanneclothier.com/ “Tossing Treats to where the dog
feels comfortable approaching and then leaving is infinitely better than
luring a dog forward to you with treats because it takes the social
pressure off the dog”
from Aggression In Dogs - Practical Management, Prevention & Behaviour Modification by Brenda Aloff
make the appearance of the mail-carrier and the approaching dogs a predictor of reinforcement – given by you. This way the dog is allowed to develop appropriate judgment about approaching persons. This technique has the added advantage of teaching your dog to look to you for
Suzanne Clothier's DVD - Arousal Anxiety and Fear
At 50 seconds, she talks about using food as a lure
At 50 seconds, she talks about using food as a lure
50:49 "...one of the more obscene we can say to a dog who is has said I don’t feel safer gong any closer…it’s called bribery and pressure and it’s coercion. For those who pride themselves on being humane trainers be careful that the coercion with food is never part of this equation. You really have to honor when the dog says this is the edge of where I feel safe. It doesn’t mean you don’t help him learn skills past that but you have to honor that and that’s your starting point.
Trish King's Blog
Giving treats to fearful/shy dogs is something that should be done very carefully. Most of them are conflicted and confused about attention. They would like to have the treat being offered by a stranger, but they’re afraid of the stranger. So they take the treat and then try to withdraw. If they can’t, or if the stranger tries to pet them, they snap at the person. Sometimes they wait until the person has turned away, because they want them to go further away. Anyway, you can help them by not having strangers give treats, but by giving them yourself whenever they are introduced to someone new. Then they have only good thoughts about the strangers, as they are not put in a confusing situation, with the person being too close for comfort.
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