You Can’t Bribe A Dog

Trying to bribe this guy would result in nothing, just him eating the food.

I recently read the words ”bribe yourself with a reward” in an article, not referring to dogs.

I have often heard the word “bribe” used in a similar way when discussing training dogs. There is one problem with this:

Bribing is not in any way associated with rewarding, whether you are teaching yourself to be more productive or your dog to do a new behaviour.

It is time to put this myth to rest once and for all.

It is important to completely stop using the word BRIBE when discussing dog training with food rewards. There is no connection whatsoever.

Let’s discuss this.

Firstly, the context in which I read this statement first was in a list of things to improve your productivity. Here is the link to that infographic. The statement is at #46.

Bribing occurs when you give or get something BEFORE the action is done.

Humans can be bribed because they have knowledge that there is a future.

Dogs cannot. They have no concept of future occurances so you cannot bribe a dog. They cannot be given food or toys in exchange for future actions on their part. It just can’t happen.

Likewise with humans, you can give yourself a reward AFTER you accomplish something, but that is far from a bribe. That is simply part of learning theory. You do something and then get a reward. That is not a bribe. It won’t work to increase future occurances of that behaviour and will not make you more productive (if that is indeed what you are teaching yourself to do).

Traditional or “balanced” dog training instructors and dog trainers love to use the term “bribe” when talking about using food rewards to train a dog. It is used in a derogatory way so that it gives the impression that using food to train is bad and does not result in a trained dog.

You can bet that if you tried to actually BRIBE the dog by giving the food in advance of the action you wish him to do, you would not get very far in your training.

You can’t bribe a group of dogs into doing this, but you CAN train them with food rewards.

I even heard one food reward training pro use the word “bribe” in a lecture in this same context — that it was bad to use so many rewards to train. And I’m sure the word has been used in this way quite often at other times as well. This is not “bribing”.

Unfortunately, using the word “bribe” to describe anything to do with dog training is not in any way helpful to promoting training dogs with food rewards.

Again, the truth is you can’t bribe a dog. You just can’t.

In fact, using that term in a teaching context would likely turn some people off from wanting to use food or even toys for rewards. Who wants to be told that she/he is bribing a dog?

Sounds negative doesn’t it?

So, let’s start thinking about how we use words accurately or inaccurately and how they apply to what we want to communicate, especially when that word has an extremely negative meaning attached to it.

It is not doing anyone any favours. Most especially dogs.

4 thoughts on “You Can’t Bribe A Dog

  1. Perhaps I have just been lucky, but I have not met a trainer who supported “bribery”. Positive Reinforcement (reward based) Training has been the status quo. Those same trainers will refuse to offer training unless the dog’s owner is present. This is simply their perspective that they are in fact training the dog owner to work with their own dog. i.e. “Dog Trainer” is a rather misleading description of their work. “Dog Training Facilitator” would perhaps be more accurate.

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    1. I’m glad to hear that you haven’t been exposed to the term “bribe” in dog training. 😉 It just doesn’t make any sense to use that term.
      Dog training facilitator is definitely an accurate description of the job. I hope we can convince people to understand the meaning of the terms we are discussing. Thanks for your suggestion!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think of rewards, food or toy, as payment. Why should our dogs work for us? Because we’re paying them to. And it’s kinda unfair to expect them to work without payment, just like it is with humans. I don’t get why negative trainers have such an objection to using treats. I hear them say that they don’t like positive reenforcement because “you have to carry treats everywhere with you.” So what if you do? Is that so hard to do? If my dog is doing good work, she deserves to be paid for it. If your boss refused to pay you but instead put a prong collar on you and jerked you if you didn’t do your work, I don’t think they would get away with that for very long.


    1. Yes I agree with you about using food as a reinforcement for dog training. There is no controversy in that idea.

      Using food rewards is not bribing though, which is what this post is about. Some food reinforcement trainers use the word BRIBE to describe using food rewards. It is a simple misuse of the word.

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