The reluctance and poor tolerance toward the use of food in dog training is not new, or even surprising, but the understanding of its application as a consequence to behaviour, in teaching, is consistently poor.
The fascinating aspect of this reluctance to use food, is that food rewards are generally held to higher standards than other consequences to behaviour, in teaching.
We start talking about fading food, before we even get started, and we presume that it’s going to heroically and miraculously fix all ills, so we abandon it, when it doesn’t…“once he sees <insert distraction here> he won’t even look at the treats”…why would he? What training have you done to proof behaviours in the face of such distractions?
It’s almost as if food were not the problem…!
Food is a contentious training tool, and like any tool there are pros and cons, but, except maybe for shock collars, not much rivals food-use for controversy.
We’ve talked about rewarding behaviour before: Pay the Dog
And discussed the care required with food’s use: Fat Dogs & Food Trainers
The Bottom Line
If you want behaviour, you gotta reinforce it; to reinforce is specific, meaning to strengthen behaviour, increasing its frequency.
The behaviours you want your dog to do, are so often not what the dog would choose (if he could), so we gotta make it worth their while.
Think of the reinforcement account you have built for behaviours that you like (polite greeting behaviour, walking nicely on lead, coming when called from distractions, settling calmly while you are busy and so on)…how consistent are these behaviours?
How healthy your account balance is, will depend on how much reinforcement you have in there…
Think of the consistency of behaviours that you don’t like – jumping up, barking, pulling on lead, not coming back and so on…that’s how healthy those reinforcement accounts are.
I get it. Most average pet owners want a quick fix formula, and that’s ok; you don’t need to be a behaviour-nerd to train your pet dog. But, it does mean that you will need serious help with filling those reinforcement accounts.
With good management, and quick teaching of replacement and desirable behaviours, we can limit the effects of unwanted behaviour relatively fast.
That’s where food comes in. When you come to training class, we’re going to use food and lots of it. That’s one hour per week to ensure your dog’s behaviour in the tricky class environment is better managed, and you and the dog are set up for success.
We are using a high rate of reinforcement (ROR) when teaching behaviour. That’s how behaviour becomes learned, and fast. Food allows for that.
Developing the skill to use food and other consequences of behaviour may not be what you want, and that’s fine. But, using food is probably the quickest, most efficient way to get behaviour you like – with a little care it can be pretty powerful.
You will develop relationship, as a side-effect, and that makes it easier to reduce training prompts.
Put the work in NOW, today, and when you can reliably predict behaviour in relevant contexts, you can reduce the food if you must, switching to other reinforcers to maintain behaviour.
If you are complaining about your dog’s behaviour, there are two places to look (and not one of them is your dog!): the environment (what’s happening around the dog that allows him to carry out behaviour you don’t like), and reinforcement history (the health of those reinforcement accounts) – all down to you. Neither food, or your dog’s to blame!
Change your mindset and catch your dog doing the right thing – look for behaviour you like, rather than waiting for behaviour you don’t like.
Carry a little bag of your dog’s regular food in your pocket or have little pots of it dotted around the house for quick reinforcing. It’s really not that tricky, and it’s better that your dog work for some of that food than get it for free from a food bowl.
You don’t necessarily need to use food forever, although that’s not the worst thing in the world either.
Why do we lament a continuous schedule of reinforcement when food is involved? Especially when we (apparently) happily continue to pull the dog around on the lead, scold them verbally (and otherwise), coerce and intimidate them – this is continuous use of potentially harmful consequences to behaviour, the fallout of which may be greater than use of food.
So, before you moan that you need to use food to train your dog, consider your dog’s behaviour and its consistency as having a reinforcement account and fill it…bring it back into the black. If you are currently moaning about your dog’s behaviour, the desired behaviour’s reinforcement accounts are probably in the red, and only getting redder…
We love teaching pets and their people! Here’s a run-through of our basic classes that are on on weekday evenings.
Puppy class isn’t really about teaching obedience and “commands”, but more so about making sure we are installing some vital life skills that puppies must develop during their first few months.
Anything you want in a two year old dog or a five year old dog, we have to prepare for now, while puppy is in those early months of life. All is not lost if we don’t get started that early, but certainly we need to get working on this stuff as soon as possible.
This clip gives you a taste of just some of the work we do on this course – and this is just the tip of the iceberg…
Puppy Manners course:
- 6 class course
- roll on/roll off – start as soon as your puppy is fully vaccinated
- for puppies under 5-6 months of age (still have baby teeth!)
- course costs €125
- Tuesday evenings, 7-8pm
Before your puppy is vaccinated, it’s important to use that time to get a headstart with a Puppy Session (90 minute private session – €60).
If you book both a Puppy Session (€60) and a Puppy Manners course (€125) you pay just €150 – which is a great foundation for you and your puppy to get off on the right paw (not to mention a great bargain!)
Once puppy education is over, that’s not the end of your dog’s lessons; indeed it’s only the beginning – we wouldn’t expect a child to be done with school after the first half of primary school!
Teenage dogs, just like puppies, have specific requirements. Adolescent dogs are most likely to become unwanted so we want to put lots of work in place to make sure the teenag dog stays a lifelong canine companion.
We work on lots during the Teenagers Manners course, all based in helping the adolescent dog develop better self-control and self-calming skills.
Teenagers Manners course:
- 6 class course
- for dogs over six months and under 14-18 months
- course costs €125
- Wednesday evenings, 7-8pm
This is a quick, intense basics course – all done in four classes!
The Monday Manners course is for adult dogs, over 18 months of age.
This is some of what we cover:
Monday Manners course:
- 4 class course
- for dogs over 18 months of age
- course costs €100
- Monday evenings, 7-8pm
We welcome all types of dogs at AniEd but not all dogs benefit from a class environment. We do everything possible to keep our training class environment low-stress (see our videos!) but some dogs have difficulty coping with even that; proximity of strange dogs or people, lots of food rewards or toys, lots of distracting smells and general excitement associated with being some place new can be pretty challenging.
I often tell our training class students that bringing their dogs to class and asking them to concentrate is like bringing their seven year old to Disney World and then asking them to do their homework!
So, we will work with you to make sure that we find the best service and approach to help you and your dog – there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with your dog (or you), every one’s an individual and we will do our best to help you.
Email or call us if you have any queries about class, suitability and AniEd services: contact us.
Crazy dogs are often misjudged, much maligned and blamed for their crazy ways but that very crazy behaviour is more than likely associated with high arousal (emotional excitement), difficulty to cope with frustration and poor stress-control skills.
How might you identify a crazy dog?
The crazy dog comes in many forms, but in general these dogs have trouble with bringing themselves down after getting wound up; they might :
- show reactive behaviour on lead or in confinement – barking, lunging, growling toward triggers such as other dogs, cyclists, other people
- show attention seeking behaviour and/or bark excessively
- have difficulty settling
- have difficulty focusing
- jump up
- pull on lead
- be excitable
- be destructive
- show frustration related behaviour such as pulling on lead, grabbing, vocalising when they want something
- dislike confinement or being left alone
The crazy behaviour itself isn’t really the full issue, it’s more that the dog has trouble bringing themselves down and often this manifests in over the top behaviour.
These are my favourite dogs to work with (and live with…ahem…Decker…) because they offer lots of behaviours and are just begging to be shown which ones are more appropriate.
Crazy to Calm Training Class
This training course is perfect for those crazy dogs, and their humans but also for dogs:
- who are expected to cope with pretty exciting environments such as dogs who attend shows and competitions, dogs who assist their humans or dogs who attend work with their humans
- who have spent time in a kennel environment such as a shelter
- who are working through a training or behaviour modification program to help with reactive or stress-related behaviour
Crazy to Calm class will help you to:
- prevent crazy behaviour by giving the humans a better understanding of their dog’s behaviour
- manage crazy behaviour by helping your dog develop better focus skills and improved on-leash behaviour
- tackle the underlying causes of crazy behaviour by working on self-control skills and self-calming skills
We will do this through lots of games, using a high rate of reward with food rewards, interaction with their human, toys & play.
We will not be suppressing crazy behaviour, as is so often the approach, but instead building more appropriate behaviour, while helping your dog learn to cope with excitement better – giving you both tools to harness that crazy into focus, fun and engagement.
- 8 class course starting soon
- 4 dog/handler teams
- each class is 90 minutes
- costs €200
You will need:
- your dog!
- your dog’s flat collar and regular lead
- a range of food rewards of different values to your dog
- tug toys – a longer one and a shorter hand-held one
- specific mat or blanket (just for classwork)
- a jacket or top with pockets to hold rewards (rather than a treat pouch)
- optional: flirt pole
- optional: a crate, at home
Register for class here, or email email@example.com, comment here or on our Facebook page!