Can Dogs Multitask?
I’m writing this on my laptop, tucked under a blanket - in the dark - talking very softly so the dog training Illuminati doesn’t break through the front door and force me into a Skinner box experiment, trapped to be controlled forever using only their fancy science talk, and the small bits from a mozzerella cheese stick. If they do come, tell my wife I love her.
Before you roll your eyes at me, remove any preconceived notions of what I’m going to say. This is definitely not a "for or against" stance on using food in training. So before you start flexing, this isn’t the beginning to some sort of food fight (pun intended). I wouldn't waste food.
Buuuuutttttt... to get you thinking a little, let’s dig into this popular topic and one thing that never made sense to me.
Here is my question to you -
Can a dog think one thing and be physically doing another? If so, how does rewarding with food make it better, worse, or more confusing at the moments we interfere with it?
Things that make you go hmmm....
The other day I was hiking with my friends, the owners of The Healing Pack. As we were cruising down beautiful South Pasadena, I saw another trainer using food to manipulate and control a situation out on a walk with a dog who was... lunging it baby! Cute damn dog, by the way.
So back to the action - the dog would lunge, she would say “no,” and when the dog sat after the leash pull, she would give the pup a treat and continue to walk. My thought as I watched was,
“I wonder if why she fed the dog and why the dog thinks he ate were the same.”
What did "Dolph Lunger pants" think happened?
What did the trainer think she was reinforcing or punishing?
So you know I have an opinion, of course. To me, a dog that is not physically reacting to something (lunging or barking on leash for example) can still be thinking naughty thoughts. And adding food at the wrong time could be confusing the dog and shooting yourself in the foot, I've found.
Dogs can multitask. I’ve seen my dogs sit down, looking nice and polite, and at the same time really want their dinner. Or lay down in the yard and hope their dog best friend comes over from across the street. They are doing one thing and thinking another.
Dogs can be doing obedience (down, sit, etc.) and still be thinking about getting up and grabbing that little squirrel, or running over to play with their bud. Physical positions only mean something if they are connected to the dog’s emotions at that moment.
When using food at these times to control the environment and situation, can someone be 100 percent sure they aren't reinforcing something negative (the barking and lunging mentally) by doing something positive, like giving the food?
Totally 100 percent sure?
In my opinion, NO.
Far too many owners and dogs are forced to solve problems in a way that could be unknowingly reinforcing the problem they are trying desperately to solve because it fits into a professional trainer’s protocol.
Do I use food sometimes? Duh!
For certain dogs and situations, you would be silly not to use food. It can trigger a different reaction in the dog’s brain. But in my world it has nothing to do with teaching them skills like sit or to look at me to avoid bad behaviors.
I’ve never met a dog that couldn’t sit or look at me in all my years. So why waste your time teaching a skill they already know but would be doing for a different reason if left to their own devices?
I have never met a dog that didn't keep an eye on alpha or mom. I never met a dog that didn’t know how to sit without getting a food nugget. My dogs sit at daycare all day long, check in with me constantly, and I never shared my lunch once.
Before handing that delicious piece of cheese to Fluffy, is she thinking what you want her to think, or just doing what you told her to do?
To me there is a big difference between the two for lasting emotional change in your relationship. Lots of dogs know how to take a treat, sit, and lay down, but still end up being destroyed day in and day out in shelters.
These are the things that make me go hmmm....
Head Rubs and Belly Scratches,