There are a few agencies that use food reward with their canines. These include ATF, USDA, and I believe the FBI. I like food reward and can see both the benefits and the liabilities involved. The main difference is how forgiving the dog will be with bad training/trainers. You have, in my very humble opinion, more wiggle room (forgiveness) with a dog that is highly motivated for toy reward. Mistakes can be made either way, but if your system is with average dog handlers, toy reward is often a better strategy than the precision needed with reward from diet.
However, with puppies we hate to squander that food drive by watching them wolf down a bowl of kibble and do nothing in return. I like to use that food in dogs under 6 months of age to do a few things.
– Create self-reward
– Encourage-self discovery
– Shape learning
Specifically, I do this in young dogs that have not matured into extreme levels of reward engagement. While I am waiting for their bodies, jaws, and brains to complete development, I can do a lot with food. I prefer they discover the food versus continually being lured or baited, and prefer remote food machines to shape the idea of “if I do something or manipulate something, food comes from the treat machine.” Food dispensing toys are great to create curiosity and object manipulation. Food can be used to prime the dog for the concept of a final response. I don’t hide food, as much as use food to encourage the dogs to explore and manipulate the environment. Searching from hunger could create a behavioral pathway that could interfere with finding inanimate reward objects. Further, it can create confusion in a search scenario. Whatever you do with food, keep in mind your final goal is a dog that is completely focused on finding their toy/reward object.