Monthly Archives: September 2015

Training The Dog With Food Rewards

training with foodMost dogs are interested in eating. The owner buys the food they feel the dog should eat, puts the food in the bowl and the dog gobbles it down. Dogs that do not greedily gobble down food, are a bit fussy about the type of food they eat or just are not big eaters  present  owners with training challenges when it comes to training the dog with food rewards.  Ideally, training at home without distractions is best accomplished with the measured portion of the dog’s meal and treats are saved for more difficult environments or situations (in class, on walks, at the vet office, in stores etc.) Although food is not the only resource available to owners when it comes to training their dog, it certainly does give the owner more options and ease of training. If a dog does not finish its complete meal within 15 minutes, getting the dog to eat better is the first goal to achieve during the training process.

Before a person can get their dog to eat better or have a greater interest in their food the owner needs to evaluate the possible causes to this problem. The most common reasons for a dog to not eat well are a medical problem, stress, or the owner offering the more food than the dog needs.

Medical Problems
A qualified veterinarian is the only person who can determine if your dog has a medical problem affecting its ability to eat. If your veterinarian determines your dog is of good health and not overweight, then this problem can be addressed from a training standpoint.

If the problem is stress most likely there are other symptoms as well. It could be your dog is a bit shut down and not very active or you could have the opposite where your dog appears to be overly active or reactive to things in its environment. It might be you see times in which the dog pants excessively, yawns but is not tired or licks it lips excessively etc. These are all signs of stress. Ideally you can identify what elements of your dog’s life are stressful and eliminate stressful events from your dog’s life or address them through training. You most likely will need the help of a professional trainer to address behavior problems caused by stress but you can also reduce stress by exercising your dog twice a day, giving it adequate time for quality rest, quality time with you everyday, and the best quality food you can afford.

If Your Dog Is Overweight but otherwise healthy
If your dog is overweight (you can not feel a ripple of ribs when your run your hands down the side of your dog and you are not pushing in) but otherwise healthy, then you may need to reduce the amount of food you are feeding your dog. You should be able to reduce by somewhere between 1/8 to ¼ of the volume without causing problems. Keep the dog at this reduced amount of food for at least 2 weeks and then evaluate the dog again.

Maybe You Are Just Offering The Dog To Much Food
If your veterinarian determines your dog does not have a medical problem, it is of an appropriate weight and your dog does not appear to be stressed, then it may be you are offering your dog more food than it can eat. Your dog is not underweight, so it is getting proper amount of calories. Any food your dog is not eating is extra that it does not want.

  1. Before you make any changes find out exactly how much your dog weighs.
  2. Then measure each meal in a measuring cup.
  3. Give the dog 15 minutes to eat the food and measure how much food is left.
  4. Figure out exactly how much food the dog did eat and jot the amount down on a piece of paper.
  5. Do not offer the dog any food or treats until the next scheduled mealtime.
  6. Repeat for 3-5 days and then average out the amount of food your dog did eat per meal.
  7. Reduce the amount you are feed each day to this amount or just a little bit less.

Make sure you weigh your dog periodically to ensure it is not gaining or loosing weight because your veterinarian has already determined your dog is of a correct weight.

If these procedures do not change your dog’s eating behavior, then speak again with your veterinarian and trainer.

Now training the dog with food rewards especially its meals will be effective if there are not distractions.  In addition, any food you do not feed through training can be put into a food interactive toy instead of a bowl as way of reducing behavior problems and providing your dog with some much needed entertainment.

What Is Humane Training?

humane trainingHumane training consists of teaching the dog what is correct through the process of rewarding desirable behaviors while eliminating rewards for undesirable behaviors through the use of consequences that do not cause pain or fear. It is through the consistent behavior of the owner that the dog learns to follow commands and to behave. Owners who can prevent the dog from misbehaving through the use of humane prevention techniques will succeed quicker in meeting their goals.

Rewarding Correct Behavior
Rewarding correct behavior involves training the dog under circumstances in which the dog is capable of learning and each time the dog displays the correct response giving the dog something that it wants – a reward.

A reward is something your dog is driven to obtain. Many things can be used as a reward but food is one of the most common and most misunderstood rewards. Many times a person will thinks they are rewarding the dog when they are not. An example of this would be the dog does a behavior correctly so the owner gives the dog a treat. The dog eats the treat but immediately turns away from the owner. It is questionable whether that particular treat is a reward under the circumstances. Ideally when you give a reward your dog will continue to pay attention to you in hopes of getting more rewards.

The food reward I recommend for training that takes place at the owners home and under non-distracting circumstances is the measured portion of the dog’s meal. I reserve all valuable treats for when there are distractions or the dog is out in public. This helps to keep the dog from getting bored of its treats. Because a food reward might be valuable under one set of circumstances but not under another, owners need to experiment to see what food rewards will work when their dog is in a novel environment or distracted with people, other dogs, wildlife, etc.

Luckily we do not have to limit ourselves to food rewards. There are a lot of other things dogs are driven to obtain. You can use play, social rewards and things in the environment to reward your dog’s behavior. The key is you have to get to know your dog and what it will be driven to obtain under the circumstances. Once you know what your dog values, training becomes much easier, successful and fun.

Effective consequences that do not cause Pain or Fear
Effective consequences that do not cause pain or Fear give the owner a way of making it so the dog does not see misbehavior as being advantageous. An example of this can be applied to walking a dog on leash. If the owner takes even 1 step when the leash is taunt the dog is being rewarded for pulling on leash. But if the owner stands perfectly still and does not allow their arms or legs to move as long as the dog is making the leash tight the dog will learn keeping the leash loose is the only way they get to go anywhere. And least you think this is all you have to do to teach your dog to walk on a loose leash, think again. Applying only this technique will cause you to go batty.

Rewards and consequence will need to be consistently applied to achieve effective results. Most people become a bit lazy with both rewards and consequences after a short period of time. Once a dog is trained, it will still need rewards for correct responses but this does not mean it will need food rewards. Proper reward training should include the use of a lot of different real life rewards.

Preventing Problem Behavior

preventing problem behaviorBecause it can take a while to change a dog’s behavior, owners find these prevention tools critical to reducing the stress they are experiencing due to behavior problems. By preventing problem behavior from happening in the first place, the behavior in question is not accidentally rewarded which would maintain the behavior or cause it to get worse. The reason dogs engage in undesirable behaviors is because those behavior serve a positive function for the dog. If your dog urinates in the house your dog has immediate relief of bladder pressure. Therefore urinating in the house is to your dog’s advantage. If your dog jumps on a person, the person most likely gives the dog some type of attention. So jumping on the person is to the dog’s advantage therefore the dog will continue the behavior. Preventing mistakes does not eliminate the behavior problem. It just stops it from getting worse, by eliminating the opportunity to display the behavior and having the dog experience the rewards of the behavior. The combination prevention plus the behavior modification techniques we teach in class is what will give you success in stopping unwanted behavior.

In order to resolve behavior problems consider the value of using some of these products so the dog is no longer getting rewards from the environment.

If used properly a dog crate is a great way to prevent unwanted behavior. During the day a dog can be in the crate no more than one hour for each month of age and never longer than eight hours. So, a two-month-old pup can only be crated for a two-hour stretch. Then it has to be let out, have a chance to eliminate and exercise and then it can be crated again if necessary. At night the metabolism slows down and dogs over 12 weeks old should be able to stay crated while you sleep. When you plan to leave the dog in the crate longer than one hour it should first have a chance to eliminate and be exercised. The crate should be large enough for the dog to stand up, and turn around, but you don’t want it to be so large that the dog can eliminate in one end and sleep in the other. The ideal time to use a crate is when you cannot supervise the dog and to aid in house training. If you need to leave your dog for a period of time longer than what would be humane, use a baby gate or exercise pen and litter box instead.

Baby Gates or Exercise Pens
Baby gates and Exercise pens are also used to prevent mistakes. They make it possible for the dog to move around more within the environment. They are helpful in keeping the dog from stealing the kid’s toys; restrict access to more valuable items, and sealing off more dangerous areas like stairs. The area the dog is baby gated into will still need to be either doggie proofed or the dog will need to be supervised.

Baby Gates and exercise pens are ideally used when the dog cannot be crated and you cannot supervise the dog. Be sure you provide a litter box for dogs that are not housetrained, don’t put paper down.

Tie Down
Using a tie down at times when you are supervising a dog makes it so they have some freedom, but they just cannot get into as much trouble. A dog also has a much better opportunity to learn consequence for jumping and playful biting if they are on a tie down. Tie downs should only be used with supervision. A tie-down is a specialized leash made of plastic coated airline cable no longer than 5 feet long. Tie Downs can be attached to a piece of furniture or a wall.

Smell Deterrents
Smell Deterrents are products that have a mild smell to us but are repulsive to the dog. You can spray these products on things your dog should not be putting in its mouth. It could be your dog is chewing thing up or playful biting.

Appropriate chew items
Chewing is a normal behavior. The problem is there are so many inappropriate things a dog can choose from. The more you satiate the dog’s need to chew by providing it with a variety of appropriate chew items, they less behavior problems you dog will have.

Preventing problem behavior from occurring does not resolve a behavior problem but it does make it so the dog is not displaying the inappropriate behavior at times in which the owner can not be consistent with training. This is really important because each time the has the opportunity to misbehavior the inappropriate behavior will be rewarded somehow making it more likely that the dog will misbehave in the future. So as you are waiting to get into a training class or working on training. Make sure you prevent your dog from misbehaving at times in which you can not train your dog.