Play or food drive

  • It's a thought I've had for a while: If I, as the alpha, prefer to use a toy over food for training or the other way round, what's the best way to get a dog on the same page? Can it be done or do we need to adapt to what motivates the dog? Personally, I believe that my praise is all that a dog needs but that's just my opinion.

  • Whether it's food, ball, or a toy poodle on a rope, doesn't matter. The point is it's something the dog focuses on. Lets make it a ball to keep it simple. I see two ways to Use the ball.
    One to wrangle the dog into a desired behavior for example hold the ball over the dogs head and it will sit.
    Two as a general motivator, to keep the dog excited/lively.
    To me both are equally repulsive, I don't like it when a dog looks to my hands for a reward, and I don't like a dog that can't bounce back from a reasonable correction on it's own.
    I am a strong advocator of the Koehler method, which establishes an honest relationship between the handler and dog. I use the environment as the motivator. Meaning my training is done in a natural setting where the dog may be distracted by anything that will normally take place on the street. I give numerous short (1-2min) breaks, that teaches the dog the "free" command, creates contrast between "free" and being under control, and keeps a dog with adequate nerve/stability plenty motivated for obedience training.
    Toys and food are not necessary and as far as I'm concerned are detrimental to obedience training.

  • I couldn't agree more. I've read both of Koehler's books cover to cover and I own them in print and on e-book form. I have realized that for teaching certain things, a reward beyond my praise and affection can come in handy. After the dog has demonstrated that he knows what I want, I switch back to praise rewarding.


    Maybe I didn't word my question correctly. When I switch from praise to a treat or toy, I prefer a toy. It's easy to carry and isn't messy. If a dog isn't motivated by that, am I stuck with food or is there a way to change what a dog is motivated by?

  • I was trying to develop a little more handler focus. I had her favorite toy as a reward because my praise didn't seem to be enough for that. Admittedly, I was trying to rush the process. She responded well to the food but not her toy. When she made eye contact with me, I'd get hyped up with the praise and try to tease her with her toy so she would play with it. She showed no interest. I thought maybe it was because that method was new to her but after trying a few different sessions and not seeing any change, I switched to food and praise. I eventually dropped the food reward altogether.

  • Don't worry about praise, it's not a reward anyways, it's a marker for correct behavior. Many dogs don't value praise in any case.


    You were describing the situation too generally so I can't comment.