The idea that dogs are inherently good with food is widely accepted, but for many, it’s just a marketing slogan that comes with no actual training.
For many, that’s just another way to get people to buy a product.
Dog trainers have a new, bold idea that treats are the key to happiness and well-being.
“I was raised with the notion that dogs love food, and that food is their greatest happiness,” says Dr Rebecca Smith, an assistant professor at the University of Western Australia’s Animal Behaviour Research Centre.
She explains that for years, dogs have been trained to eat a variety of food, such as meat and dairy, but this hasn’t been shown to be enough to make them happier.
“The reason dogs are able to make food so enjoyable is because it’s rewarding for them to eat,” she says.
Dogs are trained to chase and eat treats for rewards. “
Our dogs’ motivation is to eat the food we give them and it’s a reward that’s so powerful that they can’t stop.”
Dogs are trained to chase and eat treats for rewards.
Photo: Supplied A dog trainer named Sue has been researching how dogs respond to food rewards.
Sue says the idea is to create an environment that makes your dog happy, and encourages them to get up and leave your table.
“If you treat your dog with food, they’ll leave the table and start chasing the food away,” she explains.
“That’s a good reward, but it’s not a good enough reward.”
Dr Smith says dogs will not be able to sit in a relaxed position and they will not walk away if they see a treat on the table.
She suggests that when you give your dog treats, give them a treat first.
“Just like a human child would have a parent who gives them a toy, they should also give you a treat,” she suggests.
The goal of the experiment is to make your dog more likely to want to eat food and to encourage them to take it.
“It’s important to be consistent with the way you treat them because when they go out and get food, their behaviour changes and they’ll start chasing that food,” she adds.
Dr Smith is now working with Dr Steve Wilson, a dog behaviourist at the Dogs Hospital at the Western Australian University, to test the idea further.
Dr Wilson says his dog trainer’s research is a big step forward in understanding how dogs relate to rewards.
“We know that the more they are rewarded, the more likely they are to chase the food,” he says.
In her latest study, Dr Smith and Dr Wilson are also working on using different types of treats to train the dog to sit and follow your lead when it comes to food.
The new method will use a variety for different dogs.
“You’ll be looking at different types and different sizes of treats, so that they’re in a position to get the reward,” she explained.
“And you’ll be using different food types and what’s going on in your home to try and give your dogs that reward.”
“We’re working on a lot of different things to make sure that they have the same experiences when they’re rewarding, but they’re also able to recognise and respond to rewards in the way they’re used.”
She says her next goal is to try to figure out which types of food reward the dog will respond best to.
“This is something that’s been hard for us to do, because we know it’s important for them,” Dr Smith said.
“When we put a reward down they’ll sit, they will chase and they are more likely go to the table.”
Dr Sue says her research shows that the reward the dogs receive when they take food out of a bowl is more than just a treat.
It also helps them to sit up straight, and they also get the sensation of being rewarded for sitting down.
Dr Sue has found that her dogs are actually happier when they receive the treats when they sit down, and the rewards can make the dogs happier as well.
“There are a lot more rewarding things that they’ll want to do when they get food,” Dr Sue said.
Dr Steve says his team is also exploring different types.
“They might be trained to go outside, they might be taught to go to a crate and they might have a treat, but we’re not really sure yet,” he said.
You can watch the full interview with Dr Sue on the ABC’s Insights program on Friday 9 March.
The findings will be presented at the International Congress of Applied Dog Training in Adelaide, which is being held from October 1 to 6.
The conference will be moderated by Dr Smith.