Yesterday I trained my own dogs in an indoor arena. It is only the 2nd time that they have trained in this venue so when packing my treat bag I needed to think carefully about my choice of reinforcement.
The arena has a very nice AstroTurf floor so my choice in which food I used had to have careful consideration.
I needed something that is high value and motivating enough for my dogs but I didn’t want to use wet food such as ham as I didn’t want it leaving any residue on the floor (out of respect for the venue) I also didn’t want something that is too crumbly as I don’t want it to leave crumbs all over the floor that could distract my dogs or other peoples who were there after us.
Here is my choices:
As you can see in the picture I have a range of rewards! These range from medium value right through to high value.
Platinum sticks – I’d say these are medium value for my dogs and possibly the lowest in my food choices. These will be used for established behaviours that the dogs are confident with in any environment.
Next we have our own branded fish treats. In today’s selection I’d say these were the next level up, however we do use these as high value rewards too in different scenarios. What I like about them is their small size as they enable me to deliver a high rate of reinforcement without the worry of giving lots of food.
We then have the Kronch salmon treats and cheese. I’ve put these in the same bracket as I think for my dogs they hold the same value.
Then I have the liver paste which will be used for close work, for example if I want to keep them employed in heelwork or during or circle work for a warm up.
Then at the top of the list we have dehydrated steak. I love my dehydrator – I use it a lot for creating high value treats without the wetness they would have without the dehydration. They also enable me to give a highly motivating reward very easily with no fuss or mess.
It is important to say that the dogs normal food intake will be reduced to allow for them having this, they obviously won’t eat all of what I take to that training session.
What do you use in your training to motivate your dog?
Do you have a selection of food that you use in training or do you always reward with the same thing? Do you use the same thing for your agility training each session?
It is important to always have a variety and to mix up the type of rewards you use each time, I mean I love steak however I would get bored of it fairly quickly if I had to eat it for each meal or even if I had it every single time I went to a restaurant for dinner!
The other thing some people struggle with is using treats when their dogs are raw fed. this is also because of the value of the food the handler uses compared to what they get at home for free.
Raw fed dogs are getting such a high quality food when at home and for doing nothing, no work, no training (if owners haven’t ditched the bowl) yet their owners take them out into extremely distracting environments and then expect them to recall or learn new skills for a dried treat! These are usually the dried treats that have been purchased from the supermarket with minimal nutrition or taste for the dog! (Think chewing cardboard!!)
I am always quite confused when owners ask me when they can stop using food in training and I often reply “the same time you go to work for no pay” Yes we may reduce the frequency of rewards given in training but we always reward with the dogs highest motivator. I can’t understand why owners get so hung up on giving food… it is food not gold!
Maybe your dog likes toys better than food when training which is fine. Toys can be a fantastic motivator and reward when agility training.
However toys come with their own little warning label and it is important they are used correctly.
Toys increase arousal and when arousal is increased the dogs have a diminished ability to think clearly unless we have taught them specific skills for this. Beginner handlers sometimes get frustrated as the dogs then don’t listen and frustration in training will over time break down the relationship and could even deplete the dogs desire to play with the toy at all or even do agility!
The other thing with toys is that unless trained correctly the dog sees them as something to enjoy on their own. You may have experienced this yourself, your dog gets the toy and then runs round for what seems like hours having a great time with it. Then they won’t come back into you, they do that super fast fly past and any hope of you getting the toy back relies on your ability to catch them.
In agility we need to use the toy as an extension of us, that the dog has a big desire to retrieve it as fast as they can and get back to the handler for a game of tug.
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Happy training 🐾