Do Dogs Work for Praise and Affection?

Learn why it’s important to use food rewards to train your dog

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
4-minute read
Episode #113

Praise is a Valuable Reward When it Means Your Dog is Safe

I can already hear the old-school trainers claiming that their dogs respect them and work for praise, unlike the dogs trained by us cookie-slingers. Sorry, wrong. Old-fashioned trainers rely on “corrections,” usually meaning yanks on the dog’s neck with a choke or prong collar. If the dog doesn’t perform, she gets a yank, hard enough to cause pain or even briefly cut off her air. She works to avoid these consequences. And she’s learned that if she’s being praised there will be no yank. She doesn’t love praise for its own sake, but she sure does love feeling safe.

When is Food Not the Best Reward?

Food isn’t the best reward in every situation for every dog. Sometimes a dog is too anxious or agitated to want food. Sometimes she may want something else more—to greet someone, to chase a ball, even to pee. A dog who’s physically sick may lose her appetite. And, as I explained in a recent article, dogs who always have food available in their bowls may not have much motivation to work for more.

But for most dogs, most of the time, food is the most practical, sensible, and effective reward. We don’t have to feel bad about that. It doesn’t mean there’s anything missing from our relationship with our dogs. You should praise and pet your Dogalini as much as you both enjoy—just remember that when you’re training, food is the best way of hitching normal canine needs and wants to the behaviors you’d like to teach. And because reward-based training is safe and fun for dogs, it encourages them to trust us and pay attention to us, too. Sounds like a relationship-builder to me.

You can visit me on Facebook, where I’m The Dog Trainer, follow me as Dogalini on Twitter, or write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I read all my questions and comments, and though I usually can’t reply individually, I may use your question as the basis for a future article.

Thanks for reading!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).