Some consider using food in training a bribe. In contrast many owners don’t, but then the vast majority never get past the Pez Dispenser phase and present a negative image to the use of food. In the seventies I don’t think I ever used food other than giving a dog a biscuit as a token of affection. Now in NDT I do use food, however not as a reward, or, technically speaking, even as a reinforcement. I use food as an emotional ground. Obviously it’s convenient to speak colloquially with the terms reward and reinforcement since everyone else talks this way, but nevertheless it proves vital to make the distinction.
Food creates an emotional circuit and adds a pulse of flow to get the flow of emotion going along that circuit. In other words, showing a dog a treat is like creating a low pressure zone, akin to sticking a hose in a tank of water and then positioning the other end downhill. Next one needs to prime the circuit and get a pulse of water moving that will suck out the rest of the energy in the tank. It’s the flow of energy that drains the tank and reinforces the circuit, not the end of the hose positioned downhill (food). This distinction may at first seem subtle to the point of being inconsequential, but it ultimately factors out to prove all important in training.
When I began NDT practice, I didn’t use food in training. I engaged the dog in contacting and sensual touch because I wanted a purely emotional connection. But I found that in some contexts this was limiting, and it took too long to get the contacting going with the sensitive dogs, especially in a commercial setting, and especially given the resistance of me being a stranger to the dog. That’s when I began to appreciate food as an emotional ground, i.e. a hungry dog is a happy dog. It was the resistance that the dog overcame by becoming more drive centered which proved to be the real reinforcer, not the food.
For example, to say that food rewards behavior would be akin to saying that a host serves a guest food and drink to reward them for coming to their home. Food and drink create an emotionally conductive environment wherein guest and host can more freely share their feelings. Food and drink create a circuit between them, and then it primes the pump and induces a flow around which their interaction can elaborate to a fuller expression that invokes and satisfies the deeper level of emotion. Secondly, the act of ingestion imparts a feeling of security by relaxing and sensualizing the body/mind. The hunger circuitry neutralizes the balance circuity (the root of all fear and the source of all the nervous laughter of the first ten minutes of a cocktail party emanates.) Once emotionally grounded, one is now best able to internalize their companions’ thoughts and feelings, to overcome the resistance of personal boundaries. This deep flow is the real currency that reinforces their engagement. For example if the food is great and the company is lousy, the visit has not been reinforced. Whereas if the food is poor and the company is exhilarating, then the visit is reinforced (and hopefully there’s a dog under the table who doesn’t object to charred gristle) not to mention that given the softening effects of inebriation, even cheap libations begin to taste good.
The reason food looks to be a reinforcer is that it is a material object that both dog and human have in common and this creates an emotional circuit. And because it can be ingested and turns the internal viscera into a motile wave function, with all the pleasurable emotional affects attendant to this, this primes the circuit with a flow of emotion. Now whatever actions a dog may be induced to heighten the flow of emotion through that circuit, are reinforced. But it’s the flow of emotion and the resistance that a drive feeling can overcome that reinforces the dog, not the food itself. Dogs are emotional beings, not learning machines.