Will Work for Food!

Welcome to a “Training Tip Tuesday!”  This is a weekly column that’s written by Rugby and I!  We offer simple, general tips that will help our readers get better training results with their dogs.  We hope you’ll enjoy training your own dogs as much as Rugby and I do!

Mama Sally:  Last week, Rugby posted a photo of the swag bag I was given at BlogPaws.  Lots of his Furends were jealous,thinking that Rugby would be watching squirrels and eating treats on the patio all day.  Not at our house! Not by a long shot!

Often when I’m doing evaluations or training, I see owners giving their dogs treats left and right.  A dog might do a good job with a training session, and his owner wants to give him half a bag of treats at the end of training, because “he deserves it.”

Just look at all of the goodies!

Let’s face it!  In America, many humans express love to their pets through food.  People feel sorry for them, or they fall for those drippy soft eyes, and they give them treats.  It’s no wonder so many pets struggle with weight issues, and spoiled attitudes abound.  Yet, all of us want great family pets who are well behaved and who will live forever.

Let me ask all of you a very important question:  When was the last time you went to your mailbox and got a HUGE check from someone for absolutely no reason whatsoever?  Never, right? Publisher’s Clearinghouse is only on TV commercials.  We all seem to understand that if we want to be paid, we need to work for that paycheck!  The absolute same thing holds true for our dogs!  We need to help them understand that nothing in life is free.  Rugby earns every treat that he gets at our house.

RJ Naps Xmas toys 001
Rugby is nicely focused on me.

It will help you to understand how dogs process learning new things.  When I am training something new with Rugby, I do reward him with treats (often dog food kibble), but I also consistently verbally praise him and give him lots of petting as well.  When your dog works hard, by all means, give him a great paycheck!  I save special treats to sprinkle into a training session so that Rugby gets a “jackpot” every once in a while when he does an extra great job, or repeats a behavior several times in a row for me. (There is a process for fading treats once dogs have learned a specific behavior, but that’s a topic for another blog!)

The timing on giving him that treat is very important!  When I’m training anything, I know I have 1-2 seconds to reinforce a behavior, so I need to give Rugby that treat immediately after he’s done the behavior I want.  If I wait longer than that, I won’t capture the exact moment that I need in order for Rugby to understand specifically what behavior I’m asking him to produce.

Keep your treat size tiny!

For example, we tell our kids to clean their rooms and then we’ll take them for ice cream as a reward for their work. That completely makes sense to a child.  With a dog, that would make no sense.  Rugby would think, “Yay!  The Mama is taking me for ice cream!  I get an outing today!”  If I want Rugby to understand why he’s getting that treat, and tie it in with picking up his toys for example, I have to reward him as he does his job.  So when he puts one toy away, I mark and treat. That will continue until all of the toys are put away.  When his work is done, the rewards stop.  It makes no sense to him to get one huge reward minutes after the fact.  Dogs simply don’t make that connection.  They live in the now.

The good news, though, is that Rugby loves to have the opportunity to earn treats, so he’s always looking for a job that might earn him a kibble of food.  It really does help with behavior modification in working through various issues you might have with your dogs, because your dog will want to earn those treats all day long, so he will be more likely to work all day long. Give that a try with your dogs at home, and watch them go to work for you!

Have your treats handy to capture behavior!

Rugby James:  Oh boy!!  I just lubs discussions about treats and work!!  I just lubs to have a job to do, on account of that’s how I can get extra nibbles when the Mama is home!  She is amazing!!  She has these lil stashes of treats all over the house!  They are everywhere!  In every. single. room!  That way, I know I can get a nibble no matter where I am and I can work hard all over the house and not just in one special room or at one special time of day.  She doesn’t go in much for giving me stuff when I beg, but she’s purty good about letting me show her I know to be calm when there is noises outside.  That one is really, really hard for me, but I’ve gotted better on account of the Mama is always ready to mark and treat no matter where we are in the house.  Because she does this all day, she uses tiny bites like the size of a kibble of food or the end of the pencil eraser I chewed off when I was a pupper!  That way, I doesn’t gain weight, and I also doesn’t get all filled up sos I doesn’t wanna work for her anymore.  When I’m hungry, I wanna work hard to get a nibble!  It’s a purty good system what we’ve got at my house and I highly recommend it!





    • Sally says

      HI Sarah! Great question! For trainers who use "markers," they can be verbal: I use YESSSSS! in a very happy voice, or I can use a clicker, and it's just one click. Here's a really great way to understand what that does. Pretend that you're taking a photo. You need to get your shot all lined up, and get it in focus, and when it's just perfect, you snap the photo. That photo "marks" a moment in time through that snap of your camera. Clickers or verbal markers do the same thing for our dogs. When Rugby hears his marker, he knows at that moment, that he's done something great, because he's going to get a treat to reinforce what he just did for me. This is why timing is so very important, because highly reactive dogs don't always give you a big window of time to capture the behavior with your marker. I hope that makes sense to you, but feel free to let me know if you need further clarification! Super question! Thanks for reading my post!

      • Sarah Thomas says

        Thank you! I'm going to try this with Marley. I've been one of those dogger moms that like to give treats constantly (guilty!), so this will help me with Marley. Please hug little Rugby for me 🙂

        • Sally says

          Thanks for your response! Definitely make Marley earn his treats! He will love you for it! (Okay...he might pout a bit that he can't work the system anymore, but he will come around!!) Dogs really LOVE to work, so once he catches onto getting treats for having a behavior to produce, he will fall all over himself trying to earn some attention from you!! Good luck, and give him a belly rub from me! Rugby says thanks for the hugs! Woofs!


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