Do you, your dog and your training a favour and teach your dog to work for, to love and to get excited about more boring rewards.
Many pet owners describe how they ask their dog to wait for their food, before putting the bowl on the floor.
Take that a step further – don’t be uncomfortable with the idea of having your dog offer desired behaviours for each piece of that food rather than the whole meal in one go.
One major benefit to teaching your dog to work for their food, is that their regular food takes on extra significance and extra value.
When it’s harder to get, all of a sudden we want it more…just like these dogs:
This means that your dog is learning to use behaviours to get things that he wants, even though this stuff may not be steak or roast chicken.
Now transfer that to when you want and need behaviours from your dog, when you need your dog to reign it in, when you need your dog to pay attention, you want to teach him a new behaviour or you just want to divert your dog for a couple of minutes.
If we use our big guns for the most mundane situations, what happens when we really need better ammo?
Here’s Decker and I playing with kibble when out and about – in the first bit there are other dogs, walkers, joggers around us in the park and in the second bit we are walking near the wild deer – not too close because I don’t want them to approach us either!
The most boring of boring kibble is what has his attention here – it’s fun to hang out with me and cardboard-kibble!
Catching and searching are favourite games – by pairing this fun with kibble, the kibble gains more value.
If I wanted to do something really special or tricky or use food to help Decker better cope with a fear or concern I have lots of bigger and better guns in my arsenal such as cheese, chicken, salami, tug toys or tennis balls.
Before you reach for the big guns…
…make boring rewards more fun:
- make a training mix
Don’t worry if you don’t feed kibble; lots of ideas for other foods here too.
- get rid of those food bowls (you knew we were going to say that, right?!)
- play with your food
- turn sniffing out food into a brilliant game
- teach your dog to sniff out food on cue
- use sniffing games as a reward
- pair other more valuable rewards with lower value rewards
This works by teaching your dog that every time they accept a boring reward, something they love even more is coming. With enough pairings, in the right sequence, the more boring reward takes on greater value to your dog.
Here Lottie learns that eating kibble makes a tug game happen:
- check your dog’s stress or worry levels
Dogs who are feeling under pressure, are concerned about something in the environment or are exposed to stressors will be less likely to eat. They may not even want higher value rewards.
Here’s a great outline of signs that your dog may be experiencing some stress and may be overwhelmed, from 4PawsU.
If it’s all too much for your dog, take them somewhere else, bring them away from the hustle and bustle and just let them be – remove the social pressure.
Pain is a major stressor so always be sure to check in with your vet if you are concerned about your dog’s stress levels.
- check how much food your dog really needs
Something that’s so easy to forget is that dogs are incredibly efficient when it comes to using and taking in energy.
That means that they probably need much less food than they would have you believe.
Check your dog’s body condition:
And have a look at the body condition scoring system and weight management here.
Have a chat with your vet if you have any concerns about your pet’s weight or body condition.
Boring Rewards ROCK!
Soon you will have a dog who is working hard to earn even the most boring rewards, while you still have some ammo in your arsenal for the real training challenges.