The Importance of Rewarding Puppies for Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Without Using Food Bribes, AKA Lures

By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT-FLE

French bulldog puppy hiding under a patio chair

Training a puppy is one of the most crucial stages in their development. The way you approach training can have a long-lasting impact on their behaviour and cognitive abilities. While food bribes, also known as lures, are often used to encourage good behaviour, they hinder a puppy's ability to think critically and solve problems on their own. In this blog, we'll explore why it's important to reward puppies for problem-solving and decision-making without relying on food bribes, and how alternative rewards can foster a more intelligent and well-rounded pet.

Encouraging Critical Thinking

Puppies, much like human children, learn by exploring and making decisions. When we use food to model and reward the correct action, we turn their focus away from the task at hand and towards the treat. This can lead to a form of dependency where the puppy performs tasks solely for the food reward, rather than understanding and engaging with the process.

Building Independence

By using reinforcement at all available rewards, such as praise, safety, petting, or play, we encourage puppies to think independently. This helps them develop problem-solving skills and confidence in their abilities. When a puppy solves a problem or makes a decision and receives reinforcement, they begin to associate the action itself with positive outcomes, rather than the immediate gratification of a treat. The puppy learns to work for you, not the reward.

Benefits of Not Using Lures

 

1. Long-Term Behavioral Benefits

Puppies trained without food bribes understand commands and behaviours more deeply. They learn to associate good behaviour with positive experiences that are not dependent on immediate physical rewards. This can lead to more consistent and reliable behaviour in the long term. Working is the process that releases dopamine, not food.

2. Enhanced Bonding

Using praise, physical affection, and safety as rewards can strengthen the bond between you and your puppy. Dogs are social animals that thrive on positive interactions. When they receive affection as a reward, it reinforces their trust and connection with you.

3. Avoiding Overfeeding

Relying too heavily on food rewards can contribute to overeating and weight gain, which can lead to health issues later in life. By using alternative rewards, you can maintain a healthier diet for your puppy while still encouraging good behaviour. Satisfying the basic needs of an animal is rewarding. The basic needs are shelter thermoregulation, water, reproduction, food, safety, social contact, air, play, urinating, defecating, locomotion, and sleep. 

Practical Tips for Non-Food Rewards

 

Verbal Praise

Using a happy, enthusiastic tone of voice to praise your puppy can be incredibly effective. Dogs are very attuned to the emotions behind our voices and will often respond positively to verbal praise. Usually, high-pitch sounds convey joy and connectedness (distance-decreasing behaviours) while low-pitch sounds communicate anger (distance-increasing behaviour).

Physical Affection and Safety

Petting, scratching behind the ears, or a gentle belly rub can be great ways to reward your puppy. Physical affection is a powerful bonding tool and can be just as rewarding, if not more so, than food. Safety, the most neglected of rewards, builds secure attachments; therefore, it should be added to the list of rewards.

Playtime and Toys

Engaging in a short play session with your puppy can be an excellent reward. Whether it’s a quick game of fetch, tug-of-war, or simply running around together, playtime can be a fun and rewarding experience for your puppy. Too much play can overstimulate a puppy and have an adverse effect, so use parsimoniously. Introducing a favourite toy or a new one as a reward can also be effective. This not only rewards your puppy but also stimulates their mind and encourages independent play.

Training a puppy without relying on food bribes requires patience and consistency, but the benefits are well worth the effort. By encouraging problem-solving and decision-making without luring, you help your puppy develop critical thinking skills, build confidence, and a secure attachment, and foster a stronger bond with you. Remember, the goal is to create a well-rounded, intelligent, and happy dog who understands and enjoys the learning process. So, next time your puppy makes the right decision, reinforce them with one or many types of rewards.

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