Shaping behavior in people
Getting owners, handlers or caregivers of dogs and other animals, to use food without reserve or guilt, is one of the skills trainers need to master. It is not unusual for an owner to want to show me how they can get the animal to do something, without using food. I’ve had them take lead lines or leashes out of my hand to demonstrate how they can pull or push their pet to get them to do what they want. In some instances the bias against using food is because they think animals should do what we want, simply because we want them to. Others may have experienced an unpleasant outcome after using food. Their dog may have vomited in the car on the way home from class or had messy stools. As a result they are reluctant to repeat that experience. With some species too much food or the wrong kind can pose health risks.
The sooner caregivers get started using positive reinforcement, and minimizing the use of corrections or force, the sooner the desired behaviors will become stronger and more likely to occur. I count on this to do the final convincing for my training recommendations.
- Suggest possible options and convince the handler to buy the food
- Have the food available in the home or barn
- Carry food with them in a pouch or pocket
- Deliver it to the animal without hesitation
Play of various sorts should also be explored. But getting past the resistance to using food in training can be a hurdle. For the animal’s sake we need to keep trying to get over it.