Why train your dog with food rewards? A growing body of research says it's easiest and most effective.
“Using treats during training is the best way to guarantee that your dog will repeat the behavior you want,” says the American Kennel Club.
Other methods don't work as well, experts say, and can even harm your dog and the pet-owner relationship.
Erica Feuerbacher, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at Virginia Tech, did a study that compared a food reward to the reward of petting and praise. Dogs were clear about what they preferred: “They'll work harder and respond faster for food than for social interaction,” she says.
Dogs do love to be with us, but our monkey chatter doesn't mean that much to them: Feuerbacher has found that dogs will stay near a person who's praising them for the same amount of time as if they're being ignored.
Dog trainers talk about “life rewards” like getting to play or go for a walk. These can be useful, especially to maintain behaviors you've already trained, but are more complicated and take longer.
Punishment also works to change behavior. After all, in nature, animals that don't avoid painful experiences aren't going to live long.
However, research has shown using punishment has serious side effects. “The risks include fear, anxiety and stress,” says Zazie Todd, author of “Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy.” “And they include an increased risk of aggression, because the dog may react badly to punishment or the threat of punishment.”