Ask Kathy Why You Use Food To Train Your Dog

By Kathy Santo | Updated: July 9 2019

Student’s Question:

“Why do I have to use food to train my dog?”

Kathy’s Answer:

If I had a dollar for everyone that asked me this question, I’d have a house in Hawaii next to Oprah! Here’s the answer, just in case you were wondering, too:

Beyond the fact that food is a basic need for survival, the reality is that dogs are hard-wired to work for their food. Think: hunting, foraging, scavenging, problem solving, and performing tasks in order to earn what they eat. 

This is a phenomenon first described by animal behavior scientist Glen Jensen, who called it “contra-freeloading.” His studies proved that given the choice between easy-access food and food that required effort to obtain, animals will pick the challenge because the challenge itself is reinforcing/rewarding.

So for dogs, performing commands and tricks isn’t just a means to an end (a food reward), because the effort involved is also rewarding!

So people in the beginning stages of training who say….. 

“My dog only works for treats! “

…..should change their mindset and BRAG: 

“My dog LOVES to work for food!”  

Remember that we’re talking about their actual *meals*, not just hot dogs and cheese sticks!

But as your training advances, food will fade to a random reinforcement schedule (meaning your dog won’t get a cookie every time he does something). However, he’ll find reward in the work itself, and through physical contact (petting) and praise from you. The best part is that those are rewards you always have available!

As for myself, I’ll continue to leverage the power of my dog’s meals into training opportunities, because it not only makes teaching new things easier, but the relationship created between myself and my dogs gets stronger with every session.  

And at the end of the day, it’s that relationship that means the most to me! <3

Kathy Santo has spent her entire career as a dog trainer and handler, training dogs and winning over 500 obedience, agility and Canine Good Citizenship titles. Working with her own dogs, she has achieved every competitive obedience title the American Kennel Club (AKC) has offered and earned the prestigious AKC “Obedience Trial Champion” title (OTCh) multiple times.

In Waldwick, Kathy teaches classes, private lessons, and oversees the training of her student’s dogs using her extensive knowledge, experience and intuition to handle problems from the benign to the serious. Her engaging personality has won her the respect and friendship of her many students, who now consider themselves part of her extended family.


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