TRAIN - Bribe VS Reward - What's the Difference? - McCann Professional Dog Trainers

TRAIN - Bribe VS Reward - What's the Difference?

Bribe VS Reward - how to successfully teach a skill using food without making your dog dependent on it!

Dog Bribe = relying on showing your dog food in order to get a response. What's the problem? If the thing your dog wants to do is more motivating than your food, you lose!

Dog Reward = the paycheck that comes AFTER the dog has responded successfully to a cue you've previously taught.

Dog Lure = Using food for a SHORT period of time in the beginning stages of teaching a skill to show the dog what you expect.

Knowing how and when to use and remove food is important for sustained reliability. If food is removed too early, the skill won't have enough reinforcement history to stand on its own. If done too late, your dog may become dependent on seeing the food in your hand to understand the cue.

As an example, let's talk about how to teach a down cue from start to finish using LURING as the method.

T - Teach the Position 

1 - show your dog how to get into the position you want using a food lure. There should be no verbal cue initially since your dog doesn't know what you want yet - no point in wasting your cue!

Work several repetitions of this until the motion of your dog getting into the down is fluid and the dog is readily following food into the down. Pay attention to your hand and what it is doing - you'll need to use the exact same signal for the next step!

R - Remove the Lure 

2 - Present your hand and signal your dog down without the food. Make sure your hand looks identical to step one, just minus the treat!

Now, here is where people often go wrong!!!

A - Add Reward

If your dog gets into the down, mark with YES (or click) and then REWARD!!!!!!! FEED THE DOG FOR GETTING INTO THE DOWN!

When we say remove the food, we don't mean to remove the reward. Simply remove the lure and still reward the dog who complies.

I - Identify (Name it Once they Know it!)

3 - Add a cue! Once the dog has understanding of the skill, add your verbal cue. Try to give your cue one second before showing your dog the signal you've established.

N - Not Every Play Wins 

4 - Randomize your rewards. Once your dog is well on their way to solid understanding, you can start to wean away from food rewards. Still make sure you let your dog know they've done a GREAT job. Praise and reinforce in other ways that are valuable to your dog, but randomize the food.

Remember that the occasional food reward (variable reward schedule) will keep your dog's skill fresh and crisply performed. Praise, play and fun will fill in for you the other times!

Happy Training!


Hi! I'm Shannon Viljasoo and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members.

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