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Help--treats

lesliea
May 6th, 2008, 07:32 PM
Well, I got myself The Complete Idiot's Guide to Positive Dog Training by Pamela Dennison and I've read it from cover to cover. I really like her philosophy and attitude.

Here's the thing. My dog is a six year old Pomeranian who had to have pretty much all of his teeth removed (there are two left in the back) due to poor care by a previous owner. That makes crunchy treats fairly problematic. He does like Feline Greenies (I know, he not a feline) but I was hoping to find a recipe for some kind of soft treats. The other thing is that he is so small that after a handful of treats he is full and not interested in them anymore. Any ideas?

tenderfoot
May 6th, 2008, 08:41 PM
Gooey treats may not be a great answer either if he can't break them up. What are you feeding him? Some dogs with no teeth are still able to crunch on kibble. You could take his regular food and mash it up with peanut butter and make little treat balls. There are some soft liver treats but it would depend on how well he can maneuver food in his mouth - Poms can have such tiny mouths.

I do like some of the 'Dummies' & 'Idiots Guide' books on training, but one reason we aren't big fans of treat training is just the very reason you stated - once the dog fills up or isn't interested in food then what? I have asked food based trainers that very question and their reply was - don't feed the dog (even for days!) and eventually he will be hungry enough for the treats and ready to perform. I was very uncomfortable with that answer. In our training 'YOU are the treat' - your voice, your warm energy, your touch... then he is working for you and his relationship with you instead of his stomachs relationship with the food. Using food occasionally is fine but try not to rely on food. Relationship lasts a lifetime.

Lissa
May 7th, 2008, 11:05 AM
Maybe you could try Zukes? They are semi-soft and are easy to break up into tiny bits... I have a 60lbs dog and even break up their cat sized treats when training. When training Dodger gets a piece of food that is smaller than my pinky finger nail (so you really need to make them small for a tiny dog!).
You could also try ground meat or Rollover dog food which is also quite soft.
Another option is peanut butter, apple sauce, wet food or making your own puree and letting your dog lick it off a target stick... It makes training with smaller dogs so much easier because you don't have to keep bending down to treat them and you can really limit how much they are ingesting (1 lick for each rewardable behaviour is more than enough).

Make sure you are only using treats in the beginning stages of learning, or when you are upping the criteria or for excellent examples of whatever behaviour you are working on... You won't go through as many treats that way! Also, you should stop while your dog still wants to learn - you never want him shutting down and walking away or refusing a reward. Space your training sessions throughout the day and keep them short... Maybe only 2-3 rewards per session but I bet you will be able to do at least a dozen sessions per day...lots of short sessions are always better!

Also, another idea is to use his meals as a reward... Which brings me to another point, if he is free-fed, I would stop that... Then you can use the food from his meals to train.

once the dog fills up or isn't interested in food then what?

Any positive reinforcement trainers I know have a HUGE toolbox of rewards...food being just 1 of them... My own toolbox is filled with food, tugging, retrieving, agility, tricks, freedom/release to whatever the dog wants (Premack's principle)... Praise and petting are not primary rewards to Dodger - he is much too independent and aloof for that.:p... that doesn't stop me from incorporating them into training but if all I did was pat him on the head for recalling off a deer, next time all I'd see is him becoming a tiny speck on the horizon!

I have asked food based trainers that very question and their reply was - don't feed the dog (even for days!) and eventually he will be hungry enough for the treats and ready to perform. I was very uncomfortable with that answer.

I am uncomfortable with that answer too... I've never heard of anybody doing that! I also have never known any trainers to rely exclusively on food... However, I have heard positive reinforcement trainer's tell their students to skip their dogs dinner when attending an evening class IF they are using food as their reward. Usually, its because the handlers don't understand how to motivate their dogs and a training class is often the most stimulation the dogs get... In order to up the chances for learning to take place, they stack the odds in the handlers favour (trying to ensure that the dog will be interested in the reward)... After all, NO learning would take place if the dog is not interested in any reward and spends the entire class rewarding itself (by ignoring his handler and trying to get to other dogs). Is it ideal? No and I do wish trainer's spent more time explaining theory to their students - it would make the handler and dog a better team (and their wouldn't be so much confusion about how to use treats in training without it becoming a bribe or unrewarding).

In our training 'YOU are the treat' - your voice, your warm energy, your touch... then he is working for you and his relationship with you instead of his stomachs relationship with the food. Using food occasionally is fine but try not to rely on food. Relationship lasts a lifetime.

Food is always faded early on - it is not given after every behaviour for eternity (there is no reliance). By giving a dog an extra incentive it actually makes the relationship and commands that much more reliable IMO.
Whatever your reward - food or praise or toys, I don't see much difference...it is still a reward. It has no reflection on your abilities as a trainer or on your dog's relationship with you IMO.
Dog A might be motivated primarily by praise
Dog B might be motivated primarily by food
Dog C might be motivated primarily by toys
Dog D might go for anything
ETC...

What do they all have in common? A reward that is given by the handler. But notice that none are exclusive - they all will have other primary and secondary rewards.

lesliea
May 7th, 2008, 10:04 PM
Thank you guys so much for your responses. You've given me a lot to think about.

I am feeding him Wellness for Seniors wet food. He has a slight heart murmur and the vet said it was fine as it is low in sodium. He seems to like it well enough. The only problem is that the cat REALLY likes it which does cause some problems at times. He does seem to gum down a lot of things you might not expect him to be able to.

Peanut doesn't have any major behavior issues but I would like to train him to lie down, recall and some other things. His main problematic behavior is that often when he sees another dog he freaks out barking and pulling trying to get to them. He's fine once he's had a chance to say hello and if he is really familiar with the other dog he often doesn't do the freak out. Then again, I have taken him to a local pet friendly cafe called Wags and while we are in there, he is perfectly fine with the other dogs, sniffing and greeting and being a social butterfly.

I did start to try to condition him to a clicker but it startles him. He's usually a very calm little dog (except when he sees other dogs) and I really don't want to frighten him.

Toys are also a tad problematic because they tend to be chew based. His foster father told me that he doesn't play with toys, but I was folding socks (I hate folding socks) and I tossed a rolled pair up in the air to see what his reaction would be. To my surprise he got up and started barking excitedly obviously asking me to throw it for him. He's more into keep away than fetch. He also does a bit of tug o' war but all of this stops fairly quickly, I think because it irritates his gums. I suppose I could use tug of war as a reward for a good training session.

He is very affection oriented. He's a real snuggle bunny. We also have the eye contact thing down pat.

Okay, that leaves me with food (occasionally though it extinguishes pretty quickly), affection/praise, and tug o' war (probably at the end of a session as he might be hard to get him back on focus afterward). Maybe even a bit of a run/sprint if we are training outside. He does seem to like that (and it wouldn't hurt me, either).

Thanks again for all your replies. I think it really helped a lot and if anyone has any other suggestions for rewards or any advice, they would be greatly appreciated.

Lissa
May 8th, 2008, 05:44 AM
His main problematic behavior is that often when he sees another dog he freaks out barking and pulling trying to get to them. He's fine once he's had a chance to say hello and if he is really familiar with the other dog he often doesn't do the freak out. Then again, I have taken him to a local pet friendly cafe called Wags and while we are in there, he is perfectly fine with the other dogs, sniffing and greeting and being a social butterfly.

I did start to try to condition him to a clicker but it startles him. He's usually a very calm little dog (except when he sees other dogs) and I really don't want to frighten him.

For the reactivity around other dogs, I would do some desensitization and counter-conditioning... Reward him for looking at other dogs calmly...or as I like to do with my dog, I say "Show me the puppy" - he glances at it and then back to me... You want his conditioned emotional response to be dogs=great things (if you reward him everytime he sees another dog, it won't take long).

With regards to being afraid of the clicker... You can get clickers with different levels of sound, or try clicking inside a towel (to muffle the noise)... You can also use any other marker (I use Yes!) - some people click their tongues or snap fingers etc... Generally nothing is as fast as a click but if you have decent timing and aren't working on precision behaviours you'll be fine!:)