Tag: treats

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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How to Chop Dog Treats in 5 Minutes or Less | spend less time cutting treats and more time training your dog!

How to Chop Dog Treats in 5 Minutes or Less

02Helpful Hints, Product Reviews, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , , ,

In our Day School program, we go through a lot of dog treats! During our busiest weeks, it is not uncommon for us to use 10 pounds or more. We’re always looking for the fastest and most cost-effective ways to prepare and store this much food in our training studio.

When it comes to food rolls, we have this down to a science. We recommend and sell Happy Howie’s treat rolls. Happy Howie’s rolls are way less crumbly than other rolls on the market, which is why they are our favorite. These are 1- or 2-pound chubs of semi-soft dog treats which you can chop up or tear chunks off to give to your dog. Because you take care of the cutting yourself, these treats are very inexpensive per-pound.

Chop Treats in 5 Minutes or Less

Here’s how we process the 2-pound Happy Howie’s treat rolls at the Academy in just 5 minutes or less.

1. Unwrap the roll. While a pair of scissors works just fine to snip the plastic open, we use a pair of large dog nail clippers.

2. Slice the roll into discs. We usually aim for 1/4″ thickness – these are a bit thick.

2_sliced

3. Place one disc at a time on to the cutting portion of your Vidalia Onion Chopper.

“Wait, what?”

More info

Product Review: Solid Gold Tiny Tots Lamb Jerky Dog Treats

00Product ReviewsTags: ,

Solid Gold Tiny Tots Lamb Jerky Dog TreatsFrom time to time, we get an opportunity to test drive a new dog product. This time around, we were sent a bag of Solid Gold Tiny Tots, which are described by the manufacturer as a “lamb jerky” dog treat.

The first thing I noticed after opening the bag of Tiny Tots (which contains 10oz of treats – not bad!) was the smell. These treats have a very particular scent. I don’t know how to describe it, but it does not remind me of lamb at all.

These treats are soft and extremely easy to break up with your fingers. Each bone breaks up into 5-7 little pieces. Since I train so many little dogs, this is much appreciated! The treats are a little crumbly, but it’s not excessive.

So how did they like them?

All of the dogs I offered Tiny Tots to loved them, but me? Not so much. This scent, unfortunately, lingers on your hands and in your pockets or treat pouch. After all these years training dogs, it doesn’t take much to make me self-conscious, but I was concerned that my clients would be bothered by the leftover odor.

All five of my personal dogs can and will eat these treats, which is sort of a miracle. I have one dog who doesn’t do well with poultry, and once dog who is quite allergic to beef, and another who is picky as all get-out. But all of them enjoyed these treats! For that reason, I’ll probably keep a bag in the house… but not at the Academy where my clients might smell them. 😉

The fine print

Solid Gold’s website states that all of their treats are made in USA from USA sourced ingredients, so this is a great choice for owners who will not purchase foreign-sourced pet products.

Chewy.com LogoThis month’s product review is brought to you by the folks at Chewy.com. They provided the product reviewed in this blog post for free. If you like to order pet supplies online, look no further! Chewy.com offers free shipping over $49 and competitive prices on dog food.

How to Teach Your Dog Self-Control Around Food: VIDEO

00Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , , , , , ,

In one of my previous blog posts about self-control versus imposed control for dogs, I explained that I do not teach “leave it” to my dogs. Instead, I train my dogs to wait for permission to take food, objects, or anything else they want.

Here is a quick video demonstration of how I train dogs to have self-control around food.

 

Keys to Training

Siberian Husky Self-Control Around Food

One of our students demonstrating self-control around food. Great job, Willow! (Photo: Smiling Wolf Photography)

Note that I do not say “leave it,” “no,” or otherwise nag Strata to not take the food. Actions speak louder than words. If he tries to steal the treat, I just close my hand and make it inaccessible to him. If he waits politely, I keep my hand open and ultimately reward him using my other hand.

Rewarding with the “free” hand speeds up the learning process for the dog. If you reward with the hand that has all of the treats in it – the very thing you’re training him not to touch! – it will confuse your dog.

Start this training with treats that are of a low value to your dog, like Cheerios, bits of carrot, or his usual dog kibble. Only keep 3-6 treats in your hand at a time. It’s especially important to not start this training with food that is oily or juicy, like hot dogs or cheese, because your dog will be able to lick that off of your skin and therefore get rewarded for “mugging” your treat hand.

It is imperative that you play this game in a variety of places, with a variety of treats. Otherwise, your dog will learn that this is a game you play with liver treats, but anything else that hits the ground is fair game. My goal is to play this game in every room of my house (including the bathroom, and especially the kitchen) with at least 20 different types of treats.

Next Steps

As your dog gets good at this game, start playing it on different elevated surfaces, such as chairs, stools, tables, and countertops. If your dog counter-surfs, this is a great way to teach them that food on counters is off-limits.

At 1:25 in the video I demonstrate dropping the treat on to the ground. This is very important to build upon if you don’t want your dog diving for everything that falls on the kitchen floor. Drop treats on the ground while you are sitting, kneeling, bending over, and standing. Flick them off the countertop and on to the floor. If your dog goes for them, use your foot (instead of your hand) to block access.

This skill has saved my dogs’ life several times, when my parents have dropped open bottles of medication on to the ground. Rather than diving for the pills, my dogs have watched them fall and waited patiently, hoping to “earn” one instead!

What Makes a Great Training Treat?

02Helpful Hints, Training, UncategorizedTags: , , ,
Dog Eating Treat

Be sure to pick a training treat that your dog enjoys!

At last, here is my written answer to the number one question I receive from owners learning to use clicker training with their dogs… what makes a great training treat? Here are the things I tell my clients to consider when choosing treats to use while training their dogs.

Size

You will be using a lot of treats when training your dog. In order to avoid weight gain, cut your treats into the tiniest pieces possible. My rule of thumb is that treats should be no larger than the size of a pea; for itty-bitty dogs, the treats should be half that size. I can tell you that there is no commercial dog training treat on the market that I have found that is small enough for training. I buy the usual “training treats” like Zuke’s and soft Tricky Trainers from Cloud Star and break them in half. Any soft treat can be cut into smaller pieces.

Texture

As a general rule, I do not use crunchy treats when training my dogs, and I suggest that my students avoid them too. Crunchy treats make a mess and encourage your dog to sniff the floor and hunt for crumbs, taking their attention from you. Dog biscuits are okay as an occasional snack, but leave them out of your organized training sessions. Soft treats are much easier and faster for dogs to chew.

Every once in a blue moon, I do encounter a dog that strongly prefers crunchy treats to soft ones! For those dogs, biscuits made for “small breed” dogs and freeze-dried treats tend to work quite well.

Taste

The golden rule of dog training is this: your dog decides what is reinforcing. One dog’s favorite, most desired treat might be mediocre to one dog, and revolting to another. Experiment with different flavors and textures of treats: sweet, salty, meaty, crunchy, chewy, mushy. Make a list of treats that your dog enjoys and try to build on it.

Offering your dog a treat they do not like can actually be punishing to them. Imagine a food that you hate: perhaps cilantro, sardines, or jalapeños. Now imagine that you walked to a nearby convenience store and all they had for sale was that food, and that food only. How likely would you be to go to that store again?

Ease of Handling

You need to be able to get treats out of your pocket or bait bag quickly, and shuffle treats around in your hand with ease. If they are sticky or goopy, it will slow down your training.

Cheese is a very popular dog treat, but warm temperatures (such as your body heat) can cause it to become melty or oily. Keeping cheese in a cooler until you use it will help tremendously.

That being said, dogs tend to love certain types of food that is not very easy to handle, such as canned dog food and peanut butter, and with a bit of ingenuity you can still use these things. You can use a spoon to deliver it to your dog. A long-handled wooden spoon works great for tall handlers with small dogs. A refillable squeeze tube like a GoToob is another great way to dispense soft, mushy food.

Visibility

In certain situations, you will want treats with a certain appearance. If you are tossing treats on to your dog’s mat or into the crate, you will want to make sure there is a color contrast between the treat and the surface you are putting it on. So if your dog’s crate is black, use light-colored treats so your dog can find them quickly. Time spent sniffing around, hunting for treats is time wasted. Similarly, if you’re tossing treats, you may not want a round treat that will roll away from your dog.

The Power of Peanut Butter

21Group Classes, Helpful Hints, Reactive Dogs, TrainingTags: , , , , , ,
Peanut Butter

Behold! One of the most versatile dog training tools known to man. (Photo Credit: Victoria Chilinski)

What’s your favorite training tool? Dog trainers are always looking for the latest and greatest items to add to their bag of tricks. My answer can be found at any supermarket or convenience store: peanut butter!

For Agility Dogs

My passion for peanut butter began while attending agility classes with Tessie. She is a whiner, and would anxiously await her next turn on the equipment by making all sorts of strange noises. Springers are capable of making some pretty bizarre sounds and Tessie is no exception. (We call her the canine tea kettle.) A PB-stuffed Kong kept her quiet and relaxed while waiting in her crate.

Later in her agility career, I discovered that Clean Run sells refillable squeeze tubes. By filling one with peanut butter, I could keep Tessie’s focus ringside. This was something I struggled with because Tessie doesn’t enjoy tugging away from home. (Canned dog food works really well in squeeze tubes, too!)

For Reactive Dogs

My next great peanut butter discovery came while working with our puppy Finch. He is reactive towards people and other dogs. Finch strongly prefers playing with toys over eating treats, especially outdoors, which is where he sees his triggers. PB was the answer. It was valuable enough to him that he would take it while working outside. I also use crunchy peanut butter to disguise his pills — the broken pill pieces blend right in with the nut chunks!

I think that there is more to this than enjoying a tasty snack, though. My theory is that the act of licking is calming to the brain. I think it may have its roots in nursing behavior. Horses exhibit a “lick and chew” displacement behavior which is sort of like an equine calming signal. Perhaps someday someone will research this — does the use of a “lickable” treat promote calm, relaxed behavior?

Kong toys are perfect for enjoying peanut butter! (Photo by OakleyOriginals)

I have noticed other benefits, too. Other dog trainers often use peanut butter for dogs that tend to bark during group training classes. The PB basically glues the dog’s tongue to the roof of his mouth, allowing the owner a chance to reinforce quiet, polite behavior.

For that reason, I began using PB with my Reactive Recovery students. That class is the noisiest, with several dogs that will start barking at the drop of a hat (literally!). It did help to quiet the class down, but it had a wonderful side effect. The dogs made the silliest faces as they licked the peanut butter from their muzzles, and the owners began to laugh!

The tension level in the class dropped dramatically. With the laughing came more relaxed handlers. They felt more comfortable in class and progress came more quickly as a result.

Peanut butter also provides another benefit while working with reactive or fearful dogs: counter-conditioning. Typically, counter-conditioning is done by feeding the dog lots of tasty treats while being exposed to a trigger (like a person approaching). No trigger = no treats.

Using PB takes some of the work out of counter-conditioning, because it takes the dog several seconds of licking to fully consume it. The whole time this is happening, the brain is making the association between the trigger and the wonderful taste of peanut butter.

For Excited, Jumpy Dogs

In one of my Basic Dog Manners classes, I discovered another fun use for PB: teaching four-on-the-floor to a very bouncy dog. Capturing moments of calm was difficult, particularly when working on loose leash walking. But we soon found that the little dog couldn’t eat peanut butter and jump at the same time!

As she licked and licked to get the PB off the roof offer mouth, she walked calmly with all four feet on the ground. Another student remarked that the change was so significant that it was if that dog had been drugged. Never before have I so desperately wished for “before and after” video clips. It was quite remarkable.

In conclusion, now I crack open a jar of peanut butter and prepare a few plastic spoons before all of my classes! I’ll leave you with this video clip of Finch enjoying peanut butter as a five-month-old puppy. If this doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will! 🙂

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Stop Free-Feeding: How to Feed Your Dog Regular Meals

00Helpful Hints, Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , , ,
Stop Free Feeding Your Dog

Is there always a bowl of food on your kitchen floor? If so, you’re free-feeding. (Photo by JnL on Flickr.)

One of the first management recommendations I make to my clients is to stop “free-feeding” their dog. Free-feeding means leaving a bowl of dog food on the ground for hours at a time, if not all day long, rather than giving the dog regularly scheduled meals which need to be eaten immediately.

Here are some of the problems with free-feeding:

Free-fed dogs are harder to housebreak. Scheduled input of food means scheduled output of poop. If you’ve got a new puppy and you’re free-feeding it, you’re making house training infinitely harder.

It limits your dog’s motivation to eat treats. When I have a new client who complains, “My dog isn’t food motivated!“, more often than not, they’re free-feeding the dog. I tell clients this is like having a bowl full of $1 bills on the table, free for the taking, then telling your child he needs to earn his $5 weekly allowance. Why would he work when he can just grab a fistful of dollars when he wants?

You don’t know if your dog’s appetite has decreased. This can be a tell-tale sign of illness. When I feed my dogs, they immediately wolf down their food. If I ever put down a bowl of food and one of my dogs didn’t eat, that would earn them an immediate trip to the veterinarian. Also, if your dog ever needs emergency surgery, the vet will want to know when your dog last ate. If you’re free-feeding, that answer could be 30 minutes ago or 3 hours ago – you have no way of knowing.

It attracts pests. Disgusting but true – we’ve found ants and mouse poop in and around the food bowls of dogs that are free-fed.

Additionally, almost every free-fed dog I have met is overweight. Rarely, a dog may have a medical condition requiring it to be free-fed. If that’s the case, follow your veterinarian’s advice when it comes to feeding your dog.

How to Make a Change

If you’re ready to stop free-feeding your dog, here’s how you do it.

Step 1: Decide how often you are going to feed your dog. For most dogs, twice a day is enough – once in the morning and once at night. Puppies and small-breed dogs may do better being fed three times per day.

Step 2: Decide how much you are going to feed your dog. Some owners actually don’t know how much food their dog eats in a given day – they just keep the bowl full, and if it gets low, they dump in some more kibble. Use the amount listed on the dog food bag as a guideline for how much to feed your dog. (In my experience, these amounts tend to over-estimate how much food your dog needs.)

Step 3: Pick up the food bowl and clean it thoroughly. If you’ve been free-feeding for awhile, chances are it’s been awhile since your dog’s bowl was washed.

Step 4: At the next scheduled mealtime, measure out your dog’s food in the bowl and place it on the ground. Set a kitchen timer or your phone alarm to go off in 15 minutes and let your dog eat. She may not eat anything! Don’t worry about it.

Step 5: When that timer goes off, pick up the food bowl. If there’s anything left, measure it and subtract that from your first measurement so you know how much food your dog ate. Throw out whatever’s left.

Step 6: Do not give your dog any food until the next scheduled feeding. (An occasional training session or small snack is okay, but nothing more!)

Step 7: At your next scheduled mealtime, repeat steps 4 and 5.

Within 48 hours your dog should be eating most if not all the food you give her, and will begin eating as soon as the bowl hits the ground.

Troubleshooting

“My dog isn’t finishing her meals!” If your dog consistently does not finish her meals, you are probably offering too much food. Reduce the amount of kibble accordingly.

“My dog eats everything in her bowl and still seems hungry!” Most dogs are always “hungry” – self-control is not their strong suit. If your dog is wolfing down her food and you are feeding the amount suggested on the dog food bag, do not give her more food yet – wait a week or so, see if she’s gaining or losing weight, and adjust accordingly.

“My dog isn’t interested in the food when I put it down, so I added a little water/broth/chicken/dog treats/cat food…” Stop! Your dog is training you. If she ignores her food, you’ll add something exciting to it, therefore she continues to ignore her food until there’s a nice snack in it. If you want to give your dog a special snack, use it as a training treat, or add it to the food bowl before you put it on the ground – not after she’s decided to ignore her regular kibble.

It’s That Simple

This process really is not that difficult. All you need to do is stick to your guns, put down dog food 2-3 times a day, and not add any “goodies” trying to entice your dog to eat. A healthy dog absolutely will not starve herself. If you are concerned about your dog’s health, contact your veterinarian before beginning this plan.