I’m thinking about the comments I read or hear from people criticizing trainers as ‘cookie pushers’ or some other derogatory term they’ve come up with for reward-centric trainers. It dawned on me that if you don’t know what you are looking at, you might very well just see someone feeding dogs treats. But as with anything else, the more you understand and learn about something, the more appreciation you have for it. My cousin travels around the world tasting coffee. Give him a cup and he can pick out ‘tones’ and acidity levels, and can probably even tell you where it was grown. Give me a cup and I’ll thank you and look for the muffin to go with it.
When I am with my dogs and any boarder dogs I might look like nothing more than a treat vending machine, if you were not aware of my agenda. Daphne the guest dog stops and looks at me while we are out walking in the woods, that earns her a bit of kibble so she’ll continue to check in with me. When Bugsy approaches me and Sunny is nearby, Sunny gets a treat so I can work on changing how he feels about the old coot. Finn practically begs me to let him practice heeling when he’s off leash and why wouldn’t I want to provide a border collie with the chance to show off what he can do? While the dogs splash in the river I call each by name and toss them a treat so they look at me and practice having a positive emotional response when they hear me say their name.
Do I sometimes dole out treats just because I think a dog is too darn cute. Sometimes but even then I wait for eye contact or ask for a ‘sit’. Every interaction I have with a dog gives me the chance to let them know how I feel about their behavior.
“Ooh that’s a nice recall!”
“No need to get bent out of shape when another dog comes near your toy.”
“Better if you don’t pull away when I reach for your collar.”
“So nice to have you wait until I say you can go when I open the gate.”
If you see me with a bunch of dogs and think I’m just handing out treats for the heck of it, you’d be missing the subtle undertones of a cheery relationship, with minimal acidity, and a pleasant after taste.