Do You Want a Treat?

My little dog, Murphy, needs to get outside every few hours to relieve himself and get some fresh air.  We live in the city, but we try to make sure he gets time to play in the grass, and to keep up his canine dignity, do his business in nature.

Murphy loves to go outside because he knows that not only will he get a break from his throne (the living room couch) to spy on what’s happening in the neighborhood, but that he will get his T-R-E-A-T when he comes back inside.

Here is how it goes:

Murphy stands by the door and we make eye contact and I sense it’s about that time.  I ask him if he wants to go outside, he jumps off the couch and spins in circles as if to say, “Yes!  Let’s go now!” and we head outside for him to do his deeds.

While we’re out, Murphy takes note of all of the other dogs being walked by their masters.  He sniffs those that allow him and hides from the dogs that would obviously eat him alive if they were not on a leash.  Murphy’s only 6.5 pounds so he tends to hide from most other dogs.

We go back inside, Murphy does more spins (to show his excitement) and then he finally gets it–his treat.  I say, “Good boy, Murphy!  Do you want a treat?” and he sits up like a meerkat and practically inhales his treat.

Every.  Time.

This is Murphy’s habit:

QUE: He stands by the door and we lock eyes (followed by me giving Murphy a nod as if to say, “All right, let’s go!”).

ROUTINE: We go outside.  He does his work and does his dog-socializing.

REWARD: We come back in.  I tell him he is a good boy and asks if he wants a treat.  Of course he does.  He gets a treat.

Most of the time Murphy really needs to go outside but sometimes I think he only wants to go outside so that he can come back in and get a treat.  Actually, I know this happens and it seems to be happening more and more.  Lately, I have spotted Murphy acting as if he needs to go outside, but when he gets out he doesn’t do anything.  He still comes back in expecting a treat.

I’m not very disciplined with Murphy.  I usually give in to his scheme.  But I’m always aware of what is happening.

I don’t think we are much different than Murphy when it comes to how we eat.  If we pay attention, there are almost always queues and routines that occur before we give ourselves the reward of eating (for further research on this idea read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit).

Most days I shower before breakfast.  I have usually just come home from a walk or bike ride and I get tidy before my coffee and morning meal.  I’ve noticed that if I take an extra shower later in the day, I almost always want to eat after I get out–even if I am not hungry.

The que is feeling like I need to take a shower, the routine is actually showering and the reward is a meal, but unlike Murphy’s approach, I simply cannot take showers and eat all day.

This is not the only routine-reward combo I have noticed that occurs when I feel like doing some non-hunger eating.  When I pay attention, I find there are many queues that leave me wondering into the kitchen, no matter what time of day it is or if I actually need food.

It’s funny how quickly we can become “trained” to eat based on habit and not real hunger.  For Murphy, it’s something as simple as strutting down the sidewalk, and for me it’s taking a shower.

Sometimes, these queues serve to keep us on schedule and help make decision-making quick and effortless.  Others times, like Murphy, when he goes outside with nothing to do so that he can come back in and get a Milkbone, I think I’m showering too much.

What about you? Do you notice queues throughout your day that stimulate the routine and reward effect with food?

Do you eat from hunger or habit?


Image from Flickr.


2 thoughts on “Do You Want a Treat?

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