Myth Busting: Dogs That Aren’t Food Motivated

09Myth BustingTags: , ,
Strata Gets a Treat

We once thought Strata was “not treat motivated” when in reality, he needed to lose a bit of weight and be offered tastier treats!

When dog owners find out that clicker training requires using a lot of dog treats, some express concern. They start to tell me that their dogs are not food motivated. I have good news: all dogs are food motivated!

Dogs have to eat. If your dog wasn’t motivated by food in some capacity, she would be dead. This seems obvious, but many people don’t see the connection between “food” and “treats”!

It is certainly true that some dogs are more food motivated than others. But your dog doesn’t need to be a perpetually hungry chow-hound for you to use treats in training. Here are my considerations when it seems that a dog doesn’t enjoy treats.

Does the dog need to lose weight?

Approximately 40% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. (Source.) It is common for dogs that are overweight to refuse treats because their caloric needs have already been met. I tell owners to talk with their veterinarians about reducing their dog’s weight. You can start by reducing your dog’s meals by 15-20% and removing fatty snacks like pig ears from her diet.

Does the dog like the treats that you offer her?

Often the owner is offering something that is mediocre from the dog’s perspective, like hard biscuits or kibble. In a previous blog post, I covered the subject of what makes a great dog treat. The best treats for training are small, soft, and very tasty. This is in stark contrast to a big, hard, stale biscuit!

Is the dog stressed out or distracted?

Generally, dogs that are afraid or over-tired will not take treats in that state. If you are offering a treat that your dog usually enjoys and your dog is refusing to take it, consider what is different now. Many dogs will happily eat kibble at home, but ignore it in a social situation, like a training class. These dogs are too distracted by what is going on around them.

In those situations, you need a treat that is more desirable to your dog. If your dog seems nervous or worried, and is showing other calming signals, get your dog to a place where she is more comfortable and relaxed before trying to give her treats.

Is the dog in pain?

This is often the case with teething puppies, or with older dogs with periodontal disease. These conditions make chewing painful. Offering a softer treat, like peanut butter or other “lickable” treat, is a good temporary solution. We use a lot of meat baby food or canned dog food with young puppies. You can use a spoon or dip your finger in it to deliver it to your dog. If you suspect your dog is experiencing oral pain, discuss it with your veterinarian.

How is the dog fed at home?

If your dog is being “free fed”, meaning kibble is available to her at all times, she is less likely to take treats. Leaving a bowl of kibble down 24/7 is a bad idea for a myriad of reasons. As it relates to training, the primary issue is that you never know when the dog is hungry. Hungry dogs are more motivated by food treats.

I’m not advocating that you starve your dog for better training results, but switch to feeding your dog two or three times a day. It will also make the dog’s potty schedule more predictable and keep you abreast of any changes in your dog’s appetite. As a personal anecdote, I have yet to meet a free fed dog that couldn’t stand to lose a few pounds. They nearly always eat to excess.

I hope these points give you some “food for thought” about how to encourage your dog to be more motivated by treats. As a bonus, here’s a link to the high-value sardine dog treat recipe we recommend for finicky dogs!

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Why “Paw” is Problematic

00TrainingTags: , , , , ,
Why "Paw" is Problematic | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI

Photo by Bonner Springs Library (Flickr Creative Commons)

Many of you know that I enjoy teaching my dogs tricks, so today’s post might come as a bit of a surprise. However, there’s one behavior that dog owners love to teach that often interferes with their progress in Day School and makes their training path harder. That behavior? “Paw” or “shake.”

Teaching your dog to put his paw on you to earn praise or a treat is easy and seems like fun. But if your dog jumps up on people or paws at you for attention, you’re building value in your dog’s mind for the same behavior you’re trying to get rid of in other circumstances. It’s confusing to your dog. Is it acceptable to put your paws on people or not?

Additionally, the way most owners teach this behavior is problematic. In most cases, the owner puts a treat in their closed fist and waits for their dog to start pawing at it. When the dog makes contact with their hand, they release the cookie. We don’t want dogs to make contact with us if we’re holding food. Watch my Self-Control Around Food video and you will see why teaching “paw” in this manner is counter-productive.

We typically run into trouble while teaching down to a dog who knows paw, too. We teach down using a food lure, which turns into a hand signal. That looks a lot like the closed fist many owners use to teach “paw.”

Is it ever okay to teach “paw?”

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you never teach your dog this behavior. I have! While earning my certification through Karen Pryor Academy, I taught it to Strata on the cue of “pound it.” It’s super cute!

But at that point, Strata had already learned over twenty different behaviors. He had extremely solid self-control around food, and he never jumped up on people.

So before you teach “paw” or “shake,” make sure that you’re satisfied with your dog’s progress with these skills:

-Your dog no longer jumps up on people.

-You have already taught “down.”

-Your dog’s self-control around food is solid.

-Your dog does not paw at people for attention or to seek petting.

Pushing a Button with a Paw | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RIWhen you are ready to teach it, I recommend using a combination of shaping and targeting rather than luring to decrease confusion. Specifically, I like to shape the dog to touch an object with her paw first, and then transfer it to my hand later. This is what I did with my dog, Strata.

In the picture to the right, Charlie is learning to push a button with his paw. Later on, his owner could hold that button to transfer the behavior from the button to her outstretched hand or fist. Here’s a video showing how to clicker train your dog to touch a target with her paw.

Then, make sure to take the time to get it on stimulus control. That’s a fancy term that means your dog will only offer “paw” when you ask for it, and never offer “paw” in response to another cue. Eileen Anderson wrote a great blog post explaining how to achieve stimulus control, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I encourage you to check that out!

If that sounds challenging, you could consider teaching “wave” instead. With this alternative behavior, your dog isn’t rewarded for making contact with your body! That makes it an ideal skill for dogs who are still struggling with making inappropriate contact with people.

Summer Trick Training Challenge

10Dog Sports, Events, Group Classes, TrainingTags: , , ,

AKC Trick Dog Testing and Titles | Providence, RITrick training grows your bond with your dog and builds your training and communication skills. It’s a great way to burn off some of your dog’s energy when it’s too hot or rainy to play outside. Plus, it’s a ton of fun!

The American Kennel Club recently added a Trick Dog program to their catalog of events, which means your dog can earn official AKC titles for passing four different levels of tests.

For all of these reasons, we’re always trying to find ways to encourage our students to spend some time teaching tricks. So, we’re doing something brand new: a Summer Trick Training Challenge!

From now through August 31st, any dog who is signed up for one of our Intro to Dog Tricks classes will be added to this board in our lobby…

Trick Training Challenge Progress Board | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

This board will keep track of everyone’s progress through the Novice and some Intermediate level tricks! For each trick you complete, we’ll place a sticker in the corresponding box on the board.

More info

Restricting Water Intake: A Dangerous Housebreaking Trend

70Puppies, Training

Restricting Water Intake: A Dangerous Housebreaking TrendAt Spring Forth Dog Academy, we work with a lot of puppies! Over one hundred puppies come to us each year for Puppy Day School and group classes. As a result, we get to talk to a lot of people about puppy raising.

Over the past few months, we have noticed a very concerning trend. Some of our clients were deliberately restricting their dog’s water intake as a potty training strategy.

Generally speaking, most pet dogs have access to water whenever they are not confined to a crate. They naturally limit their intake of water. Unless trained to the contrary or ill, dogs drink only as much water as they need.

But some puppies join our Day School program and as soon as play group starts, they rush to the water bowl and drink every drop. Or, at drop off, little Fluffy is frantically pulling towards the water bowl we keep by the door.

When asked, owners tell us something like, “He was having a lot of accidents, so we stopped giving him so much water. Now we just give him a bowl every few hours.”

What is normal water intake?

The short answer is, “It depends.” WebMD reports one ounce per one pound of a dog’s body weight, but notes that puppies and active dogs need more.

According to this formula on DVM360, normal consumption of water in adult dogs, in layman’s terms, works out to be about 1.37 ounces of water per pound of body weight. But they also mention, “Puppies and kittens are predisposed to rapid dehydration as a result of their higher water requirements.”

Dr. Tracy Johnson, a veterinarian at Country Companions Veterinary Services in Bethany, CT, notes, “You don’t know how much water is appropriate for each individual puppy. Diet, weather, and exercise can also play a part in how much a puppy needs to drink. This can vary from day to day.”

Abnormally frequent urination and increased thirst are both signs of medical problems. These include diabetes, Cushing’s disease, urinary tract infections, and kidney disease. If you think your puppy is peeing “too much,” talk to your veterinarian before taking the water bowl away.

Keeping a log will help. Note every time your puppy drinks or urinates (indoors and out). The data may help you discover patterns, like an accident at a particular time of day. But, it’s also helpful information to provide to your veterinarian. It may help her make a diagnosis or help you determine what is normal.

Why is water restriction dangerous?

Restricting Water Intake: A Dangerous Housebreaking TrendDr. Julie Mahaney, a veterinarian at Oaklawn Animal Hospital in Cranston, RI says, “Water restriction can result in dehydration, urinary tract infections, bladder stones, and water obsessive behaviors.”

There are a variety of medical and behavioral reasons why limiting a puppy’s access to water is dangerous:

1. “Obsessive” behavior around water. If water is limited, you will condition your puppy to drink all of the water every time you put the bowl down. As a result, she will work very hard to gain access to water.

“If water is severely restricted, and the puppy isn’t given enough water and it’s thirsty all the time, you could cause resource guarding because now the water is a very valuable resource,” adds Dr. Johnson. (In addition to being a veterinarian, she is also a professional dog trainer working with dog owners through her business Happy Homes Pet Behavior Training.)

Thirsty dogs may jump up on the counter to try to reach the sink, drink from the toilet, or drink standing water outside. Puddles may contain antifreeze, fertilizer, and intestinal parasites.

“Risks of drinking from puddles are primarily leptospirosis and giardiasis, but other fecal parasites like round, hook, and whipworms could be ingested as well,” Dr. Mahaney explained.

2. Health risks of drinking too much water at once. Dogs with restricted water intake often become conditioned to drink all of the water they see. If your puppy unexpectedly gains access to a large quantity of water and drinks all of it, this can lead to trouble beyond urine accidents.

Health risks of drinking too much water in one sitting include vomiting, water intoxication, or even bloat (gastric torsion) which is life-threatening.

3. Urinary tract infections. Dehydration contributes to painful urinary tract infections. If you’re not giving your puppy enough water, you’re setting the stage for a UTI. If not treated early, UTIs can lead to bladder stones, permanent kidney damage, and sepsis.

We’ve kept statistics on this. Of puppies in our Day School program experiencing restricted water intake, more than half are diagnosed with a urinary tract infection within the first few days of starting our program. When we notice symptoms, we refer the client back to their veterinarian for input.

Is restricting water intake ever a good idea?

I suspect that this idea began with a piece of advice taken too far. Picking up your dog’s water bowl 30-60 minutes before bed time can help set your dog for success. It prevents a last-minute “tank up” right before 6-8 hours in the crate overnight.

That’s very different from only giving water at meal times, which some of my clients have tried. It’s very different from crating your dog without water for 8 hours during the day and 8 hours overnight. If a professional suggests making a change to your dog’s water intake, ask for specifics and write them down. That way, everyone in your household understands the recommendation.

If your puppy is having a lot of accidents in the house, contact us. We can help! In addition to our in-person training in Providence, RI, we also offer long-distance consulting just for potty training.