Our gentle greyhounds deserve force-free and positive, rewards-based training methods like every other animal. Every animal, from giraffes in zoos to bomb-sniffing rats — and even us humans — learn the same way, and there is no excuse to use heavy handed and aversive training methods.
When we teach with food, it’s important to use the food as a reinforcement for the desired behaviour and not a bribe. Bribes happen before your greyhound does anything, in an attempt to induce him to perform, and are used in an attempt to induce or influence a greyhound to do something they would otherwise not offer to do. This is why bribery is not very effective. While it may convince the greyhound to behave the way you want in the short term, it doesn’t address the fear that is underlying a their behaviour — in fact, it makes they greyhound more aware of that fear.
Reinforcement is different from bribing because it is given AFTER a desired behaviour occurs naturally and strengthens that behaviour. For example, a greyhound is too scared to go through the doggy door or into the elevator, so you use the food as reinforcement only, i.e. you reward the greyhound for simply looking at the door or elevator, then reward him for choosing to move closer (without luring him), and so on. The food is not used to entice your greyhound to do something, like take a step towards the door or elevator; it is used to reward a desired behaviour that the he performs by himself. Once your greyhound begins to understand that certain behaviours result in a positive outcome, he is more likely to repeat them.
The difference between bribery and reinforcement
When food is used as reinforcement, the greyhound is making a conscious decision to offer the behaviour, whereas with bribery, the greyhound is only attempting to get the food or waiting for the food to come to him. Using reinforcement, we are able to better expand the dog’s comfort zone and the dog is able to learn exactly what it is we want.
We CAN, however, use food as a lure. Lures are different from bribes, because with lures, we are showing the greyhound how to perform the desired behaviour, not trying to coax him into doing something he doesn’t want to do. A target is an example of a lure. We start by teaching the greyhound to touch his nose to the target ( e.g. a ball thrower, feather duster or your hand). When he touches the target, we reinforce that action with a food reward. Once he knows to touch the target when it is presented, we can use the target to teach him how to lead beside by holding out the target to lure or tempt him to take a step forward. We reward the greyhound by giving him a food reward as soon he takes a step forward. We fade the target or the lure out when the greyhound understands what to do. The difference is that when we lure a greyhound, the behaviour we are asking of him is well within his capabilities and comfort zone, and is merely way of showing him what or how to do something.