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Rolled Up Magazine vs. Bag of Treats

Right now many dog guardians are facing a choice. Do you want to be in a constant state of conflict or a constant state of peaceful coexistence with your companion? For many that choice has been boiled down to: a rolled up magazine or a bag of treats. Or, more generally, punishment or reward. And many of the guardians I meet have chosen the rolled up magazine, without giving fair consideration to the treats.

I cannot tell you how common it is for me to meet with frustrated guardians that have a rolled up magazine sitting on their coffee table. Inevitably they tell me that they never have to use it, but that it is more of a warning to their dog. It is notable, however, that I rarely see a bag of treats as visible.

So what... why should treats be sitting out?

Here is why.

When it comes to learning, defined as a long-lasting change in behavior resulting from experience, 50 years of data tells us that reinforcement / reward works better than punishment. Even in dogs. And dogs love treats. Therefore treats need to be sitting out if you want to help them learn to stop doing the things that make you keep the magazine around.

What does this mean? This means that while your dog may stop barking or obey your command when you raise that magazine, there is no real learning. I can say that because I guarantee you will have to repeat that action time and time again. Now, compare that to positive training methods which redirect unwanted behavior and utilize a reward system for wanted behavior. With a positive training system the guardian becomes a source of reinforcement instead of a source of punishment. With this positive training system the dog will begin to change its behavior permanently.

But more importantly, as a wise person put it to me, we all have a choice: to be in a constant state of conflict or a constant state of peaceful coexistence with our companion. A rolled up magazine is the ultimate symbol of dog-human conflict, for me, as a trainer.

Lets move toward the constant state of peaceful coexistence and a bag of treats.

Dr. Owens

Acknowledgements: a recent discussion with Vicki Harper

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