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Dog eats thin air when offered a treat that is not there

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Dog eats pretend food treat

In this short video of 15 seconds a dog goes through the motions of eating nothing. But the dog thinks that he has been offered a food treat and that he has taken it. The person offers what the dog thinks is a food treat but there’s nothing in the person’s hand. The dog takes the pretend treat from the person and eats it. It looks very strange. My conclusion about this form of canine behaviour is that the person has done a lot of training of this dog in the form of positive reinforcement.

Note: This is a video from another website which is embedded here. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.


And positive reinforcement training requires a reward and that reward is nearly always a food treat. This dog is used to being offered a food treat in this person’s hand. He is so used to it that when the person presents their hand to his face as if it is holding a treat, and then puts their hand next to the dog’s mouth, he takes what he believes, on an emotional level, is a food treat even though there is nothing there at all.

I take this to be conditioning. The dog’s mind is heavily conditioned to respond to the person’s hand when held in a certain way to accept it as a treat. It’s a bit like clicker training.

Dog eats pretend food treat

Dog eats pretend food treat. Screenshot.

With clicker training you use the sound of the clicker to link to the reward. So, when the dog does something correctly you use the clicker and give them their food treat. The dog then associates the clicker sound with the food treat. At that point you don’t need to actually give them a food treat because they respond to the sound of the clicker as a reward. One dog trainer calls it a “charged” clicker which “elicits the same emotional response in the dog as the treat itself”.

It’s called classical conditioning which is used to for example overcome fears, decrease aggression, reduce overexcitement or over-arousal et cetera. ‘Classical condition’ conditions dogs to unconsciously react in a certain way. No doubt that this dog has been conditioned to react to a person’s hand positioned in a certain way and forming a certain shape (as if holding a small food treat) to react by eating it.

It is remarkable in one way because the dog chews on thin air and then licks his lips afterwards. It seems that he actually believes he is eating something. It would be nice to get into the head of this dog and ask him whether he tastes the food that isn’t there. But this is not rational behaviour. This is not rational thought. It is entirely instinctive, carried out unthinkingly.

To outsiders it does shed some light on the thinking of domestic dogs and why they behave as they do in relation to their human master and caregiver. A criminally-minded dog owner who has mastered his dog can demand that their dog do something which harms them and they will carry out that command.

I believe that this unfailing loyalty demands that the owner takes on the extra responsibility that this creates. Perhaps often this responsibility is not discharged adequately by some dog owners.

There are some more articles on dog behaviour just below the adverts if you scroll down. They might interest you.

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