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The Science of Using Food Rewards for Dog Training

Food rewards are an easy, fast and effective way to teach your puppy new behaviors and reinforce these behaviors in higher distracting situations.

Treats need to be pea-sized OR SMALLER and easy to get to (pocket, training pouch or nearby table top). They should be soft so your dog can chew quickly without leaving crumbs on the floor – plus soft treats are easier to break into small enough pieces

Distracting environments call for better treats. You can usually get away with something like Cheerios or kibble in the house with no distractions, but for outside leash walking practice, whip out the cubed cheddar or hot dogs.

When in working with distractions, or a particularly challenging situation, feed lots of treats in a continuous fashion – to help your dog be successful.

A mix of treats is ideal so your dog never knows what’s coming. Figure out what your dog really likes!

If you are having trouble with a particular behavior such as housetraining or coming when called – use your dog’s very favorite treats for these rewards and ONLY for rewarding these behaviors.

Once a behavior is learned, start rewarding randomly – start with ‘2-fers’ and gradually vary the intervals in which you reward, slowly decreasing over time but continue to reward occasionally – ‘slot machine effect’

Treat ideas:

Cubed lunch meat (to dry it out a bit, microwave it 3 times for 30 seconds sandwiched between pieces of paper towel)
Shredded or string cheese
Cream cheese, peanut butter, Easy cheese (a lick per behavior – also great for grooming practice and stuffing in Kong when your dog will be alone for awhile)
Cereal such as cheerios
Kibble (dry food) – try placing some in a paper bag with some bacon to ‘stinkify it’
Kitty treats or food
Freeze dried liver treats
Beef Jerky
Apple pieces
Cooked green beans, carrots, or peas
Hot dogs, Liverwurst
Popcorn
Imitation crab (try peeling layers apart and freezing them in a colander to dry them out)
Meat baby food
Hard boiled egg white pieces
Commercial dog treats (be sure to check ingredients to avoid preservatives, artificial colors and by-products)

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Puppy Biting and Nipping

Puppies explore with their mouths just like babies explore with their hands. Puppies have sharp teeth and weak jaws – so this is the time to teach them to bite gently – and then not at all – before they develop the strong jaws of an adolescent dog. It is important to teach your puppy to reduce both the force and frequency of his biting.

To do this, play with your puppy. Sit on the floor and purposely put your hands near your puppy’s mouth. If you feel a hard bite, say Ouch! And stop playing. If your puppy stops biting, lure him into a sit and reward and start playing again. If your puppy ignores the ‘ouch’, and continues to bite, say OOOWWW and leave the room. Come back after a 20 second time out and do a little sit/down training before starting to play again.

An excellent way to practice this is to tether your puppy in an area where he can’t have any fun except with you. Sit on the floor and play with your puppy and when you feel hard bite, say Ouch! Then get up and leave the area for 20 seconds. Repeat this 10 times in a row twice a day. You should be able to play longer and longer between hard bites. Then start reacting to the softer bites as well. If you have children, each person should practice this exercise separately, starting with the adults.

Another way to teach your puppy to have a ‘gentle mouth’ is to hand feed him. Your puppy only gets the food when being gentle – and not grabby. If your puppy likes to bite and grab pant legs, stop moving immediately and interrupt him. Call his name and then ask him to do something else such as Sit.

Be aware that when your puppy is excited, he’ll be more mouthy and bitey. So first practice when he’s calm. When he is calm, you can do a lot of gentle petting and give him a nice belly rub. If he bites, then all petting stops for 20 seconds. Another consequence to biting is 30 second time out in his crate. Don’t do this in anger – it’s just a neutral consequence to his biting – “Oops – time out – in your crate.”

If you don’t see an improvement in reduced biting, consult a Certified Professional Dog Trainer in your area.

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Teaching Your Dog to Say Please

In any home, whether it has dogs in it or not, good manners are appreciated. Things like pushing past your parents to rush outside or bugging them for candy while they were working were probably not allowed when you were young and they show that your relationship with your dog is not as strong as it could be. There’s no need to yell at your dog when he does things like bark or whine at you for attention or defend his dog food dish. What you need to do is teach your dog how to SAY PLEASE.

As with all of the training methods that we recommend, we want you to set your dog up for success. Tell the dog what you want her to do (in words that she knows or by reinforcing behaviors you like), and ignore the tricks you don’t want in your dog’s attention-grabbing toolbox. You get what you pay for with dogs. If it works for them, they’ll keep doing something, even if you don’t like it.
The Say Please Protocol is also called “Nothing In Life Is Free,” because you allow the dog to earn his keep. It’s a way of living with your dog that will help him behave better because he trusts and accepts your leadership and is confident knowing his place in the family.

How to teach your dog to Say Please

First, teach your dog some behaviors that he can do on cue. Use positive reinforcement methods to teach him some cues. At first, SIT is quite sufficient. This will be your dog’s default way of asking you for something. DOWN and STAY are also useful behaviors. “Bow,” “Speak,” “Sit Pretty”, and “Roll over” are fun tricks to teach your dog.

Once your dog has mastered one or more cues, you can begin to ask him to Say Please. Before you give your dog the things that it likes most in life, (food, a treat, a walk, a pat on the head) he must first respond to one of the cues he has learned. One way is to simply have your dog sit for everything, so that he his default method for getting what he wants is to sit. Soon, you won’t have to ask for it; you can just stand there waiting and he’ll offer a polite sit, to see if it works. You can ask him to do other cues as well, although the sit is your dog’s primary way to Say Please.

Once you’ve given the cue, don’t give Fido what he wants until he does what you want. If he barks at you or knowingly refuses to perform the behavior (unlikely – he probably just doesn’t understand), walk away, come back a few minutes later, and start again. Keep in mind that he may not actually know the cue in the context you are asking, and may need extra help at first. Or he may be so excited about the toy/treat/leash that he temporarily forgets everything he knows. “Extra help” includes a visual signal or even a lure. If you think the dog knows the cue and you end up using a lure, don’t feed the dog the treat that you used for the lure at that time (we don’t want to reward non-compliance!).

The Benefits of Teaching Your Dog to Say Please
The best benefit is that your dog practices the cues that you have taught in many situations, with many different kinds of rewards. Instead of having to do a long training session, you can practice behavior that the dog already knows throughout the day. Your dog no longer has to ask, “Why should I listen to my human?” because the rewards are things that he wants in his everyday life, not just food.

Some dogs display affectionate behavior that borders on being “pushy,” such as nudging your hand to be petted or worming their way onto the furniture to be close to you. Dogs don’t do these behaviors because they are mean or bad dogs. They do them because they work. Period. Requiring your dog to Say Please first shows your dog the polite way to get what it wants. If you simultaneously ignore the unwanted behaviors, they will disappear and be replaced with a nice sit.

Fearful dogs may become more confident by ‘obeying’ cues, because it allows the dog to understand some of the rules of the game. Making your dog or puppy Say Please before dashing off to do what she wants can help keep her out of harm’s way (in the car, at the door, et cetera). In a multiple-dog household, making each dog Say Please and releasing them by name can bring some peace and order to your life!

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