The Science of Food Rewards in Training

Using food rewards to train your dog or puppy is a very effective way to get results quickly.  However, its important to use food rewards properly and effectively.

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’
– Freeze dried liver treats
– Beef Jerky
– Apple pieces
– Cooked green beans, carrots, or peas
– Hot dogs, Liverwurst
– 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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Adolescence in Dogs

A dog’s adolescence is the time when everything starts to fall apart, unless you make a concerted effort to see it through to the stability of adulthood. Your dog’s adolescence is a critical time. If you ignore your dog’s education now, you will soon find yourself living with an ill-mannered, under-socialized, hyperactive animal.

Here are some things to watch for.
Household etiquette may deteriorate over time, especially if you start taking your dog’s housetraining and other good behavior for granted. But if you taught your pup well in his earlier months, the drift in household etiquette will be slow until your dog reaches his sunset years, when housetraining especially tends to suffer.
Basic manners may take a sharp dive when puppy collides with adolescence. Lure/reward training your puppy was easy: you taught your pup to eagerly come, follow, sit, lie down, stand still, roll over, and look up to you with unwavering attention and respect because you were your pup’s sun, moon, and stars. But now your dog is developing adult doggy interests, such as investigating other dogs’ rear ends, sniffing urine and feces on the grass, rolling in unidentifiable smelly stuff, and chasing squirrels. Your dog’s interests may quickly become distractions to training, so that your dog will continue sniffing another dog’s rear end rather than come running when called. (What a scary thought, that your dog would prefer another dog’s rear end to you!) All of a sudden he won’t come, won’t sit, won’t settle down and stay, but instead jumps up, pulls on-leash, and becomes hyperactive.
Bite inhibition tends to drift as your dog gets older and develops more powerful jaws. Giving your dog ample opportunity to wrestle with other dogs, regularly hand feeding kibble and treats, and periodically examining and cleaning your dog’s teeth are the best exercises to ensure that your adolescent dog maintains his soft mouth.
Socialization often heads downhill during adolescence, sometimes surprisingly precipitously. As they get older, dogs have fewer opportunities to meet unfamiliar people and dogs. Puppy classes and parties are often a thing of the past and most owners have established a set routine by the time their dog is five or six months old. At home, the dog interacts with the same familiar friends and family, and is walked, if at all, on the same route to the same dog park, where they encounter the same old people and the same old dogs. Consequently, many adolescent dogs become progressively de-socialized toward unfamiliar people and dogs until eventually they become intolerant of all but a small inner circle of friends.
If your adolescent dog does not get out and about regularly and few unfamiliar people come to the house, his d-socialization may be alarmingly rapid. At five months your dog was a social butterfly with nothing but wiggles and wags when greeting people, but by eight months of age he has become defensive and lacking in confidence: he barks and backs off, or he snaps and lunges with hackles raised. A previously friendly adolescent dog might suddenly and without much warning be spooked by a household guest.
Puppy socialization was a prelude to your safe and enjoyable continued socialization of your adolescent dog. However, your adolescent dog must continue meeting unfamiliar people regularly, otherwise he will progressively de-socialize. Similarly, successful adolescent socialization makes it possible for you to safely and enjoyably continue to socialize your adult dog. Socialization is an on ongoing process.
Dog-Dog Socialization also deteriorates during adolescence, often at an alarming rate, especially for very small and very large dogs. First, teaching a dog to get along with every other dog is difficult. Second, it is unrealistic to expect a dog to be best friends with every dog. Much like people, dogs have special friends, casual acquaintances, and individuals they don’t particularly like. Third, it is quite natural for dogs (especially males) to squabble. In fact, it is a rare male dog that has never been involved in some physical altercation. Everything was fine with young pups playing in class and in parks, but with adolescent dogs, the scraps, the arguments, and even the play-fighting seem all too real.

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Tips for Coming When Called

The two most important things to remember are to always praise your dog when they come to you – and set yourself up for success.

Teach your dog that ‘Come’ means – run to me, there’s a party over here!
Never say ‘Come’ when you think your dog may not do it
Only call your dog to come when you KNOW you can make them, not hope that they will
Always balance distance and distractions for level of difficulty – ie, work at a level where your dog can be successful. If there are distractions, work at a short distance away. If there are no distractions, you can be farther away
Do not call your dog to ‘Come’ for anything she doesn’t like
Never call your dog in anger
Call your dog only once – and then make her come or walk away
Always praise and reward your dog for coming to you- make sure you reward and praise a lot!! (a full 20 seconds of petting for example)
Never punish your dog for coming to you – even if it takes awhile for him to get there.
Never chase after your dog
Get your dog to chase you if you don’t have control
Practice first indoors with no distractions
Use a food lure at dog’s nose and walk backwards to start the behavior
Practice calling ‘Come’ for mealtimes and for walks
Practice 10 times on each outdoor leash walk (intersperse walking backwards and calling your dog)
Gradually add distractions and different locations
Practice outside on a long line –first with no distractions, then add distractions
Use high value food rewards when practicing outside
Don’t expect to get from kindergarten to graduate school quickly – this takes time!!
Practice “Gotcha” so your dog is used to having its collar grabbed
Say name first, make sure you have attention, and then call Come
Praise your dog as they come to you
Do NOT repeat the command over and over – just get closer and try again

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Pet Ownership Cost Guideline

Pet ownership represents a large emotional – and financial – commitment. Whether you buy from a pet store or a breeder, adopt an animal from a shelter, or take in a stray, initial costs are just the beginning of the story.

This guide examines the different costs associated with pet ownership and helps you know what to expect, how to plan for these expenses, and potential ways to reduce the financial burden of pet ownership.

The Lifetime Cost of a Pet

There are two main cost areas when owning a pet: the initial cost (adoption costs, vaccinations, training, etc.) and then general costs over your pet’s lifetime (food, toys, routine vet visits, etc.) Combining both of these costs together will give you a rough estimate of the lifetime cost of your pet. Even without some of the larger expenses like a fenced in backyard, initial costs like vaccine

s, heartworm prevention, toys, training, and food can add up to $680 or more. Throw in routine expenses such as dental care ($40 to $80 per year), food ($240 per year), and grooming ($30 per visit) and you’re looking at $300-$400 per year before major medical expenses.

Acquisition Costs

One of the first expenses of pet ownership is the adoption or purchase price. The price of purchasing from a breeder is typically influenced by the demand for that particular breed. Reputable breeders will charge fair, if competitive, prices, while backyard breeders will charge high prices to earn a profit. You should avoid purchasing from backyard breeders; their practices are driven by money rather than care for the animals. Backyard breeders often purchase from puppy mills and other unethical institutions. The Partnership for Animal Welfare provides a useful guide for identifying the differences between backyard breeders and legitimate breeders. Legitimate breeders know their breeds and can refer buyers to other satisfied customers, while backyard breeders will sell to whomever is willing to pay.

Adoption costs, on the other hand, cover a variety of expenses. Many shelters and rescues will microchip animals, provide medical care and heartworm care, and in some cases even spay and neuter animals. The cost of all this care can be upwards of $800, but shelters rarely ask this much. The upper range of most adoption fees is around $500, but can be higher in some cases.

Medical Costs

Medical costs are arguably the most expensive aspect of owning a pet; even smaller expenses quickly add up. The average vet visit can be anywhere from $50 to $400, while dental care runs about the same. Vitamins are usually around $100 per year, and preventative medication for fleas and heartworms are each around $20 per month. None of this includes emergency treatments your pet may require. Pet insurance is another expense that can be marked as a medical expense, but is well worth it. We explain pet insurance in a later section.

Grooming Costs

Depending on the breed of dog or cat you own, grooming can be a relatively minor cost or a budget-breaking one. Long haired breeds require much more grooming than short haired breeds, although you can often reduce the cost of grooming by handling it yourself. Brushing your pet’s hair daily and trimming their nails at home can save $50 per month.

Food Costs

Pet food will be a large portion of your yearly pet budget, but despite common belief, your pets don’t have to have the most expensive food. Many pet food claims to be “all-natural” and “premium”, but there isn’t much regulation on what it takes to meet those qualifications, they are typically just marketing terms. Price isn’t the determining factor in quality, make sure to do your research on what best fits your budget and pet’s needs. A 22-pound bag of Purina One Complete cat food will cost around $17.48, while a 50-pound bag of Kibbles ‘N Bits dog food is around $22.98 from big-box retailers. Depending on the size of your pet, this could be enough for a single month.

Equipment Costs

Equipment costs vary wildly depending on the individual. If you need to fence in your backyard, you’re looking at well over $1,000 on average. However, for an indoor pet, you may only need water and food bowls and a few toys. This cost depends entirely on your personal circumstances.

Training Costs

Training is an optional cost. Cat owners likely won’t need to pay for training because most cats don’t require it but dog owners have two options: pay for training or train their pet themselves. If you have owned a dog before, then you may be able to get away with training it on your own unless it is a particularly difficult breed. If you’ve never owned a dog, then professional training can be worth the cost. Not only does training reduce behavioral issues, but it can also reduce costs later in the future; for instance, the cost of a lawsuit or medical treatments if your dog bites someone.

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Raise the Bar in Training

To keep your puppy or dog interested, keep asking for his very best. When you are starting out, every tiny effort toward good behavior is rewarded. But once a behavior is basically learned, it is time to raise the bar.

Use these criteria:
If you repeat yourself (don’t!) or physically help your puppy get it right, praise but no treat. Put the treat right to his nose then put it away. Too bad –try harder next time! You’re not angry but he doesn’t get a gold start for C- level work. If you want to encourage his best, treat only for A-level responses. Save your treats for the best performance your puppy can currently offer. Give a few small treats in a row for great responses or a breakthrough response (first correct effort). If your puppy offers a behavior without you asking for it, say ‘thank you’, but don’t treat.

While you are feeding, smile and praise. Don’t fake the praise – feel it and your puppy will feel it. Keep making it clear to your puppy what you really like (his very best!). If his slow Sit after two commands gets the same treat and praise that an immediate Sit with full attention gets, how is he supposed to know which is better? If you want the best, reward the best with your best.

Brian Kilcommons, a well-known area trainer puts it very well:

“You get what you pet”. In other words, if you pet your dog while he’s jumping, you’ll get jumping. If you pet your dog while he is sitting quietly, you’ll get quiet sitting.

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Some Basics to Teach Your Puppy

ATTENTION – Start with dog as close to you as possible and say dog’s name “Rocky” and give a treat. Bring treat up towards your face to encourage eye contact. Gradually increase difficulty by walking around.

CHECKING IN – Whenever your dog looks at you voluntarily, praise and toss a treat. When watching TV, or just hanging around the house, call dog’s name and if/when he looks, toss a treat. If he doesn’t look, get his attention by clapping, whistling, etc. Don’t keep saying his name if he is not looking at you.

GOTCHA – Gets puppy used to hands reaching for his collar. Reach towards collar, treat. Touch collar, treat. Hold collar, treat. Repeat a few minutes every day.

SIT– Show dog treat with your right hand, bring treat straight up and back with treat right near their nose until their butt drops into a sit. Your hand position determines where the dog will be – if it’s too far away from their nose, dog will jump up to get it. As soon as dog is sitting, give him the treat and praise. Practice 10 sits daily.

CLOSE COME– Face dog while holding leash. Get your dog’s attention, hold up treat. Take one step back and say “Rocky, Come!” When dog comes, lure into sit, praise and reward. Repeat with 1 step, then 2 steps then 3 steps. Vary the angles of your backward steps.

RECALL-Have two people- one sitting in a chair and the other standing. The person in the chair holds the dog around the chest. The other person should get the dog’s attention by holding a treat in front of his nose, and making enthusiastic noises while backing away about 10-20 feet. When the dog is totally excited, person #2 then calls the dog – PUPPY COME! Praise and give a treat when the dog arrives. Hold collar before giving treat. Practice 5-10 times daily in various rooms, then outside once dog is very reliable inside.

DOWN-Have dog sit, praise but don’t reward. Hold treat at dog’s nose and slowly bring down between his paws and back towards you to lure him into a down. Get behavior numerous times before saying “DOWN”. Then fade treat and use hand to lure.

MOUTHING-For shoes (laces), coats, etc, I recommend Bitter Apple. Spray object of puppy’s mouthing. Be matter of fact about this. Let puppy think shoes just don’t taste good anymore. Don’t make a game of this. For hand and arm mouthing, start by using a high-pitched ‘ouch!’ noise and let puppy know that it hurt. Then turn away from puppy, count slowly to ten and return to puppy. If puppy is still mouthing, there will need to be a more physical correction.

SETTLE– This is a calming exercise, not about dominance. Sit on floor and place your dog on the floor in a down with one hip shifted to the side. Place both hands on the dog’s shoulders and say ‘Settle’. If very squirmy, you may also need to hold the collar. Be confident, yet matter of fact about this, firming up your grip as necessary. Give dog a massage when it completely relaxes. Release with ‘okay’ only when dog is relaxed. Never do this in anger. Practice by breaking up play sessions with Settles and then allow back to play.

HANDLING – Gets puppy used to handling – by vet, groomer, etc. Say body part, reach, treat. Touch, treat. Hold, treat. Work on paws, head, ears, mouth, tail, etc. Work up to longer touches, rubs, etc. Small dogs practice “Lift up” PRACTICE BRUSHING YOUR PUPPY

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On Leash Greetings

Many otherwise social dogs will behave aggressively toward other dogs while on leash with their owners.

Many dogs are less social than your own.

If your dog is straining at the leash as he approaches another dog, the other dog may perceive your dog’s body language as confrontational or intimidating, and vice versa.

A tight leash may telegraph stress to your dog, and cause him to be more on guard.

Safe and successful introductions between adult dogs are most likely when the following conditions are met:

a.  Both dogs are regularly socialized and have no history of aggression

b.  Both owners have voice control (at minimum) over their dogs in stimulating situations (i.e. there is a balance between stimulation and control)

c.  Both owners know their dogs well and are able to read canine signals

d.  Both dogs are able to approach on slack leashes with relaxed body language

e.  Both owners are relaxed and confident

f.   Owners have good communication with one another

g.  Neither dog is wearing any training equipment that might cause unintended corrections or inhibit natural body language

h.  Neither dog is on a taught leash or a retractable leash

i.   Both dogs have the freedom to walk away

j.   Owners have good communication with one another

Allowing unwelcome or uncontrolled introductions may undermine your leadership with your dog, who may trust your judgment less after being subjected to an introduction that goes badly.

If you are not certain your dog (or the other dog) is adequately prepared for a successful greeting, try walking in parallel with the other dog and owner at a safe distance, to see if both dogs relax a bit, to give them each an opportunity to take in the other dog’s body language, and to gauge your control over your dog (and the other owner’s control over his) in each other’s presence.

Holding the leash can cause the following issues:
– inhibits body language of the dog
– feed off of human emotions because of tension in the leash
– resource guarding of owner
– fearful dogs can’t escape
– frustrates playful dogs who may redirect on owner
– leashes tangle causing potential injury dogs/humans

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Taking Treats Nicely

Some exuberant puppies and older dogs will grab at food treats or chomp down on your hand while taking the treats.  Its worth the effort to teach your puppy to take food gently.

One effective method is to teach them to lick for treats using the “fist of Kong” method.

1. Put a smear of peanut butter or cream cheese in the palm of your hand.

2. Make a fist and then relax you hand and move your thumb so that there is an opening near your thumb. Your hand should be shaped like a kong.

3. Present your hand to the dog.

4. The dog will sniff and then use their tongue to get to the stuff in your fist. When the dog licks your hand, verbally praise your dog and then open your fist and allow him to take another lick or two.

After the dog gets the pattern, you can transition to solid foods, by using a peanut butter smear and also a treat in your hand. When he licks, open your hand and let him eat the treat. The treat should be presented in a open hand with the treat resting on your palm (don’t present a treat between the finger tips).

In the case where you can’t outlast the dog because he is chewing your fist, remove the fist, turn your back and walk away for 5 seconds. It might be necessary to tether the dog so that you can walk away. This doesn’t happen all that often because most dogs quickly learn that they can lick the peanut butter.

For the first rep, present an open hand – this makes it more likely that he’ll lick when you present the fist (and it tests whether he’ll be interested in the smear you are using).

Once you’ve started doing this, use the lick for treats method for delivering treats while doing other training. So when you deliver a treat when luring a sit, use the fist of Kong.

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Teaching Your Dog to Love Toys!

People will often lament that their dog is not “into” toys. Some dogs will not innately want to play with toys but you can create the desire within them with a little work on your part. If your dog is really motivated by food and has never shown any interest in toys, an option available to you is to take the motivating toy you have chosen to work with and simmer it in a pot of liver, or chicken broth to make it more attractive to your finicky hound. BE LEERY–if you choose to go this route, be very careful your dog is never given an opportunity to be alone with this wonderful smelling toy or THEY MAY EAT IT. The key to training old Rover to play with you and your toy is that you are SINCERELY interested in playing with your dog. If you are truly not having fun, your dog will quickly realize this and will be even more reluctant to join in. So be sure that you are both enjoying yourselves.

– Choose a throwable toy–i.e. one that you can toss, but won’t roll too much, like a tug rope, or a ball in a sock or a stuffed animal.
– Attach this toy to a light line, string or lead that is about 3 meters long.
– Put the toy in a drawer in your living area– somewhere else that is easily accessible at all times.
– Before each meal start to act a bit loony. While saying really fun things to your dog (like “oh no”, “what is it”, “do you want this”, “where’s your toy”, etc.) walk, dance, skip…basically act goofy while you make your way over to the special drawer.
– S-l-o-w-l-y open up the drawer while continuing to say nutty things to your dog.
– Stop talking momentarily (a pause for effect) and then pull the toy out of the drawer, like you just unexpectedly came across a $50 bill and run with it into the next room.
– Swing the toy above the ground while acting nutty to show the dog what a great time you are having with this fun toy.
– Dance around for a few more seconds and then toss the toy out like a lure on the end of a fishing pole.
– This whole process should only take 1-2 minutes the first time you do it.
– End your fun game, which didn’t include your poor dog, by running back to the drawer, your toy in tow snatching it up and quickly putting it back in the drawer with a phrase like “oh no, it’s gone”.
– Then proceed about your regular routine as if nothing out of the ordinary just happened.
– Repeat this 2-3 times a day. After the second day, allow the dog to get his mouth on the toy if he is really interested–but only for a few seconds. Pull on the line to try and steal it from him. Once you get it away (be sure you are taking it from him in a very informal, fun way), play with it a little more by yourself before quickly putting the toy away.
– Gradually progress, letting him play with you and the toy (tug of war style) a little more each time until you have a dog who loves to see the toy come out.
– Do not allow him to play with this toy at any other time except during this routine.
– Ideally, you should remove any other toys that are lying around the house during this time. Leave out only things your dog can lie down and chew on by himself, such as his chew bones.
– Before you know it you will have a dog who is as nutty about this toy as you apparently have been!
– This method works particularly well on new puppies.

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A great article on pros and cons about electric fences



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