CONSIDERATIONS WHEN TRAINING WITH FOOD:
Most puppy training starts with food training. Puppies are maturing, and do not have the focus of an adult dog. They are discovering the world with their paws, nose, eyes, and mouth. Therefore, humans need a good reward method to catch their attention for any period of time.
Adult dogs will have more maturity and focus (usually). Therefore, the first section does not necessarily apply to them. Although, these are things you may want to consider, especially if your adult dog seems at all flat when training. Both young and old dogs need a distraction free place to start learning at first.
- A well rested puppy is needed for training. Make sure you haven't just played or walked the puppy right before a training session. I prefer to be sure the puppy has napped appropriately before training.
- If you are training with food, you need a puppy that is ready to accept a food reward. So right after a meal is not the ideal time to train your puppy with food. My personal preference is to train puppies WITH their meals.
- Training needs to be kept in short intervals through the day with very young puppies. 5 minutes can be enough for a young puppy training session.
- You want to start your training in a place relatively free of distractions.
Considerations for selecting training treats:
- I personally prefer treats made in the USA. If you are not familiar with the US brands, you might want to check up on consumer reports for them to be sure they have been free of problems. There have been significant problems with some foreign sourced dog food and treats. Also USA based treats can have their problems too, just be educated and aware of the brands and their reputation.
- A puppies kibble can be fine for training treats. This is if the puppy accepts this as rewarding enough, and the kibble is small enough so the puppy does not have to chew it over long.
- Training treats should be small for puppies. I also think the moist or soft ones have more flavor and smell.
- I have on occasion mixed training treats in with kibble.
- Also if you over feed training treats, you can make your dog or puppy sick. This is one reason that I like to mix some with kibble and let that settle for a little bit. Sometimes the training treats are a bit too rich if the puppy is not used to them.
- Also while most puppies do very well with food training, some puppies will not exhibit the enthusiasm required, or in other words it may not be the thing that is going to motivate them in that moment. Some timid or shy puppies may be too shut down to accept a food reward. There are many other things you can do for these puppies. It doesn't happen too often with puppies, but you should be aware of the possibility.
- Too many liver treats (and probably some other types of treats) can be toxic to your dog. Know what the limit is for your dog's weight and stick to it. Also notice if they start looking off, and look into the symptoms with that ingredient, brand, or type of proteins.
- You may find your dog has allergies, and therefore treat selection can become difficult to find.
LURING WITH TRAINING TREATS:
Luring and handling the treats while luring:
- Luring is a way of manipulating your puppy into the position you want with your hands and a food reward.
- When you first start luring with puppies, you start with the treat right up to their nose. Adult dogs may or may not need this very close guidance.
- Because you are positioning the puppy or dog, you don't grab the treat away from them. This will also cause undesirable grabbing at your hands for treats. Your hands are being used to position the puppy or dog, and you want that communication to be clear and steady.
- The best way to hold the treats for commands like sit and down luring, in my opinion, is in a closed fist. Your hand only opens when the puppy or dog makes the move that you want them to. For instance, sitting would start with their bum on the floor and their front feet on the ground. Until that happens, you hand remains closed and at their nose (usually you have the your hand with the food right at the puppy's nose, and then you move your hand back to have their bum drop). Any command can be shaped into smaller movements. Once the movement you want is accomplished by the puppy or dog, you immediately open your hand and give a release word (I use "yes" which is part of a marker system of words).
- For lured heeling, I find the best way to hold the treat is in the webbing of my thumb and finger when on the move, and then I drop it down into the puppy's or dog's mouth when they are in position or auto sit. For auto sit luring, I usually lift my hand up and back when I stop, and make sure they are in good heel position before doing so.
- When treat training, it is almost always best to have the treat in your hand already, so when the well timed reward comes, you are not fumbling around in the treat or bait bag (or pocket). Otherwise you risk an ill timed reward.
- The easiest way to start luring with your dog or puppy is with a leash and collar (that they can not escape from) on! It is not effective or efficient if you need to chase your dog or puppy around the room to get their attention.
- Not the topic of this article, but shaping and capturing are other ways to get dogs into position.
Additions to the luring and treat training process:
- Verbal cues are commands or markers that when repeated consistently become meaningful to your dog. Verbal cues can be markers or commands. Treat and luring is used in this way to make a bridge to a verbal cue. For instance, "sit fido" (command), "good dog" (marker in some systems), "yes" (release word marker in some systems, and can indicate reward coming), and finally food reward; are used in a consistently practiced string to provide meaning and communication between both species working together. Verbal cues are given after the dog is performing lured commands without verbal cues. In other words, you want the finished action first before you put a name to it.
- Verbal markers give your dogs feedback as to their performance, and clues as to what you would like them to do next. The marker system that I have learned uses three words. "Good" means good job and keep going. As one example, this can be used in a stay, but it does not mean for the dog to break the stay. As another example, this can be used when you want your dog to retrieve an object as in "good that is the right object to grab". "No" means that the goal was not achieved. So a dog might have broken a stay, or the dog might have grabbed the wrong object. When you get going with your dog, the dog begins to know this means to try something else. "Yes" means good job and now you are released from your assignment. I also use this a lot to indicate a reward is forthcoming as well, and in this case it would be a food reward.
- Clickers are a piece of equipment you can buy that makes a sound and is easily portable. However, the clicker has only that one sound piece of information for the dog. It can be used to capture (a subject for another blog) or shape quickly. The food makes markers, clickers, and verbal cues a bridge item. The thought of the food is transferred to the item in the expectation of a reward at some point.
- I highly recommend a treat bag or bait bag as an additional piece of equipment when training this way. This keeps your clothes free of dog food or treat particulars, and is placed on your body in the most ideal spot to grab a treat for the reward.
Pros of treat training and luring:
- You and your canine companion are having a good time together.
- Very easy to be successful in the beginning. That is motivating to a dog owner.
- Creates focus with most dogs that you normally would not get in the beginning and possibly later on in distractions.
- Training with food will eventually start to create calm and well being in most dogs, especially for the fearful and timid. This can be very useful in behavior modification or perception modification for dogs.
- Treat training can be effective with an aggressive or fearful dog when using a conditioning muzzle. This way you can be responsible yet less on high alert, while being able to reward train your dog, whose responses are not always desirable. Toy training a dog with a muzzle on, for instance, is not nearly as effective for obvious reasons.
- Normally does not require immense physical effort for most handlers. You may have to bend a lot or work from the floor with a puppy or small dog though. Alternatively, you could work a puppy on a table or raised platform in the beginning.
Cons of treat training and luring:
- Dog or puppy gets too excited over the prospect of getting food. That is something that is good to work through, but it can be a difficult time for dog owners not familiar with the training process.
- As the process moves along, you have to be very good at your timing, delivery, consistency, and phasing out of the treat/reward process for all old commands. Eventually, you have to know how and practice moving forward from this.
- This not done well or for the wrong thing, can interrupt a learning process especially when puppies become adult dogs.
- Can create treat dependence and close up handling always if done too long and not phased out.
- Mostly adult dogs (but also some puppies) may just not be into food. Some dogs find other things far more rewarding, and then those are really best used for rewards. Some puppies may also be this way, but might also be shy and timid at first, as they are just learning things. Therefore (same with adult dogs), they may actually be too stressed to take a food reward, and other options work far better with these dogs.
- You may have to bend a lot or work from the floor with a puppy or small dog though. In the beginning with large dogs, you may have to hunch somewhat when teaching a lured heel. Alternatively, you could work a puppy on a table or raised platform in the beginning.
- Your dog may have allergies and sensitivities to certain types of food.
- Ingredients in too large a dosage per day or week could be toxic to your dog, like liver.
There is so much more to say on this subject. Hopefully, we will touch on all this again as we drill down into the basics of dog training, and the ideas that most dog owners are not aware of in dog training.