I don’t believe in using food to reward a dog. I use food to calm a dog. Food is calming because it is an emotional ground. In other words in order to eat the food, the dog has to open his jaws and swallow, and since in animal consciousness the body/mind is one organ and faculty, this means that to allow food into its body a dog’s mind must be open as well. And when a dog’s body and mind are open, he feels good and feeling good is the basis of being calm. The question then becomes how high is the dog’s emotional capacity so that he can hold onto that feeling of being grounded no-matter-what. Raising emotional capacity rather than rewarding behaviors should be the heart of the training process.
Whereas when we say that when we give a dog a treat for sitting on cue, that the food is a reward for the act of sitting, we are mistakenly attributing the effect to a mental cognitive process and this will factor out to a profound misunderstanding of how dogs learn. One might even follow this kind of thinking to its logical extension and conclude as did Karen London in a recent issue of “Bark” magazine, that there is no such thing as prey drive. Imagine that, the organizing principle of the canine makeup is reasoned out of its nature.
Consider the first ten minutes of a cocktail party when you don’t know anyone (and just to ramp up the social tension, imagine being over-or-under dressed). And when we are offered food and drink and immediately start to relax, it’s not because we are being rewarded for coming to the party and for being polite to the host, we are feeling calm because we are becoming emotionally grounded by the act of ingestion. This is how our physiology and neurology is configured. We even have a term “comfort food” for those delectables that induce the most emotionally grounding affects. Whereas if learning theory is correct, the term comfort food should be thrown in the hopper along with the term prey drive and replaced with “reward food.” But somehow that just doesn’t feel right.