We all fall into it, when we start to train our dogs. We want to treat our dog with love and kindness, and sometimes, we just want them to follow our cues, or follow along quickly--- and it works!
Want our dog to come inside? Show them the food!
Want our dog to sit? Shake the treat bag.
Want our dog to follow us inside? Shake the food dish.
Have you ever heard of someone saying they don't want to "treat train" their dogs because they'll rely on food to perform behavior? That's bribery, not positive reinforcement.
... And hey, I'm certainly speaking from experience!
Positive reinforcement is “when a behavior is followed immediately by the presentation of a stimulus that increases the future frequency of the behavior” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Bribery is “something that serves to induce or influence” (Merriam-webster). Bribery typically offered before a desired behavior happens.
Sometimes, it can be a fine line. Here's where the study of behavior gets complicated. It truly is all about the timing! If your dog is hearing a cue, offering a behavior, then being rewarded, that is positive reinforcement. If you need an indicator that a reward is coming (such as showing your dog a bag of treats, a toy, or a food bowl), that is bribery. Once you step down bribery lane, you'll need to be very careful about the timing of your reinforcements to truly allow your dog to learn! For example, rather than shaking the treat bag for your dog to sit, you'll want to have hidden jars of rewards around the house or food hidden in your pocket. You can cue your dog, then offer a reward. However, we often assume our dog knows a bit more than they do, so you'll want to be sure to work with your dog often so you are 100% sure they will know exactly what you are asking for.
The timing is important, and it's easy to read about online or in a book. But in practice, marking behavior accurately and clearly to your dog will make all the difference... The timing, placement of your rewards, management of your dog, and type of rewards will make all the difference.
This is where a qualified trainer or behaviorist can help you!