Tuesday Training Tip: Working With Bait

Mama Sally:

When I first started out in dog training, the methods of the day were harsh and punishment based.  I didn’t have the stomach for that over time, when I saw how discouraged my dog became, and how little he wanted to work.  It just wasn’t fun for him, and I so wish I could have a “do over” with him knowing what I know today!

But part of my journey as a dog trainer included that past, and as a result of it, I started showing dogs in conformation where I learned the value of teaching a dog using “bait” or food.  Corgis “self stack” on the floor, so that means that the handler doesn’t actually hand place each leg….the dog is “baited” into the correct show stance, by using a high value treat.  I used big hunks of cooked beef liver, and my dogs would have chewed their legs off to get a taste of it!

And over time, and lots of repetition and practice, I was able to fade away the bait and my show dogs knew what to do when we were in the ring.  Their behavior had become habit, and they produced what I asked them to do.  But it all started with bait, and I’m a firm believer that using bait can be a wonderful tool to help your dog understand what behavior you want from him.

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I absolutely loved this style of training, because it was so much fun for my dogs!  They were huge foodies, so if I found a way to tie in a good quality bait to anything I needed to train with them….they were all in…lock, stock, and barrel!  Most dogs I train are just like this.  This was a big step in my journey into the training style that I use today, which is rewards based!

Rugby has been a key player in helping me understand the value of luring a dog into a specific behavior simply by using bait appropriately. He just didn’t respond well at all to leash and collar training of any kind.  Because he didn’t trust me for a long, long time, he would often just shut down when corrected, even though the corrections were very mild, so I had to take a completely different approach with him.


Once I realized that trust wasn’t there, I just “messed around” with various tricks, so that he could have fun, and we could start building a relationship together.  I wanted him to get rewards for almost everything, and receive no chance of getting it wrong to hear a correction, so it really made me think outside of the box to get any kind of results with him.

196I relied a whole lot on my conformation training experience with bait to help Rugby understand what I wanted from him.  I knew if I tied in food to our training, he would jump in with all four feet!  So I figured out how to lure him with bait into the various behaviors that I wanted from him.  His focus was wonderful, and we both had so much fun together!!  To this day, he still asks me to work on tricks virtually every single day, and I know a large part of that is because it’s always been such a positive and fun experience for him.

Rugby helped me learn just how much dogs want to work, and how much they enjoy work!  When training is presented in the right way, they generally just love it, and can focus on the task at hand and learn.  Trust is an essential ingredient in making any sort of forward progress with a dog, and this is honestly the method that I used with Rugby to build trust so that we could tackle some of the really difficult naughty behavior, like resource guarding.

Just as a bit of a disclaimer, honestly, not all dogs are food motivated, and anxious dogs tend to be less interested in food when they are in an anxious state.  Because Rugby didn’t trust me, and because he was worried about the expectation I had for him to learn something new,   he was often in an anxious state in our early days working together.  Because of that, I learned to start watching his body language and “read” when he was anxious, fearful or calm.  Because I successfully use bait in working with Rugby, it’s always a huge red flag to me when he doesn’t want to eat.  That’s my cue to back off and slow down,  and this is why it’s key to train your dog while he is relaxed, so that he can learn, and also get a great reward that he will love!

Rugby James:

It has sure been a long road working wif the Mama and teaching her how I learn and work.  Right at the beginning, she just assumed that I trusted her only I didn’t and she didn’t get that for a long, long time.  I guess all of her udder doggers did trust her, but I didn’t, on account of I hadda lot of udder homes wif Uprights what gived me back.

When lil doggers….ecspecially a lil pupper like I was,  gets gived back over and over, it makes us learn not to trust Uprights anymore.  It’s a lotta work for a dogger to trust Uprights, and when we get gived back over and over, we just learn to save our energy and we don’t wanna trust in case it doesn’t work out.  See, I knowed that’s how it was, only the Mama didn’t, and it taked her forever to figure that out.  Once she got that I didn’t trust her, fings started going in the right direction for us bof!

She backed off of how she was doing stuff, and made training more like we were just messing around and not real serious or anyfing like that.  It feeled a lot more like we was just playing around togedder, and I gotted kibbles while we messed around.  Over time, when I seed the Mama doing the same stuff over and over, and she did it the same way for a very long time, I started to feel like maybe I wanted to try to trust her.  I started being able to trust that she would be safe for me, and that was a very important breakfrew for us.

And really, that’s when we started making good progress forward as a team togedder.  I started to believe that she really did like me, and would protect me, and I always hope even still that she won’t give me back….even when I’m naughty.  And it all started when she was messing around wif kibbles and helping me learn stuff like jumping over her legs, and crawling under them, and jumping up and balancing on her left knee when she had it bended and she was on her right knee on the floor.  It was just fun stuff is all, but it’s how we learned to love each udder and that’s kinda what gotted us to become a team!



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