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Questions On Keeping Training Treats High Value


a_daerr
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Truman is becoming increasingly picky at what treats he considers "high value." If I threw anything in his dish at home, he'd eat it. But the issue is finding a treat he actually wants to work for. We've done hot dogs, Kraft cheese crumbles, steak tips, roast beef, beef steak, and garlic chicken. If he's stressed or not really interested in the training, he will spit out the treat or turn his nose up at it. He is NOT a picky eater under normal circumstances. The pickiness issue only arises during training. So my question is this- what do you do once the dog gets bored of everything?

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If he's stressed or not really interested in the training,

 

I don't train when that is the case.

Star aka Starz Ovation (Ronco x Oneco Maggie*, litter #48538), Coco aka Low Key (Kiowa Mon Manny x Party Hardy, litter # 59881), and mom in Illinois
We miss Reko Batman (Trouper Zeke x Marque Louisiana), 11/15/95-6/29/06, Rocco the thistledown whippet, 04/29/93-10/14/08, Reko Zema (Mo Kick x Reko Princess), 8/16/98-4/18/10, the most beautiful girl in the whole USA, my good egg Joseph aka Won by a Nose (Oneco Cufflink x Buy Back), 09/22/2003-03/01/2013, and our gentle sweet Gidget (Digitizer, Dodgem by Design x Sobe Mulberry), 1/29/2006-11/22/2014, gone much too soon. Never forgetting CJC's Buckshot, 1/2/07-10/25/10.

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Good question. It often helps to time practice sessions when they are already hungry. Many dogs consider tripe a high value treat. I often get sample packs of new/different kibble too.

 

I'd try to address the stress issue because if he's feeling anxious he's not going to be interested in treats or performing.

 

(BTW, I avoid adding spices for dog treats. Onions and garlic are considered toxins.)

Edited by 3greytjoys
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You may have tried these things, but...

 

With a new dog or picky eater, I take a variety of treats. At the beginning of class and for stuff the dog knows well, I use lower value treats. The higher value stuff is used for new or more difficult/important stuff (walking, recalls). With Cal, who was usually very stressed (she wasn't good around other dogs) and is not all that interested in treats at the best of times, I had a huge variety of treats. I also used more praise and pets, since that worked at least as well for her; praise and pets are not much good for luring.

 

It can also help to find something to lower the stress levels, perhaps an easier or different task, a little walking around. I believe Batmom sometimes leaves the hall for a bit. I don't because there is usually enough room in the training hall to find a quiet spot. At home, where it's the task rather than the environment that causes the stress, I switch tasks. Or be silly for a bit. Or quit (preferably on a high note) and try again later.

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I don't train when that is the case.

 

I asked the trainer about that, and she it's okay to give him breaks once he's over threshold, but not to totally give up. If I just totally stop, he'll learn that acting disinterested = stopping the training session (which is exactly what he wants).

Edited by a_daerr
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If he's regularly over threshold and acting disinterested during training, that would be a signal that it isn't the right training method / technique / environment for the dog. 99.9999999% of training should be fun.

Star aka Starz Ovation (Ronco x Oneco Maggie*, litter #48538), Coco aka Low Key (Kiowa Mon Manny x Party Hardy, litter # 59881), and mom in Illinois
We miss Reko Batman (Trouper Zeke x Marque Louisiana), 11/15/95-6/29/06, Rocco the thistledown whippet, 04/29/93-10/14/08, Reko Zema (Mo Kick x Reko Princess), 8/16/98-4/18/10, the most beautiful girl in the whole USA, my good egg Joseph aka Won by a Nose (Oneco Cufflink x Buy Back), 09/22/2003-03/01/2013, and our gentle sweet Gidget (Digitizer, Dodgem by Design x Sobe Mulberry), 1/29/2006-11/22/2014, gone much too soon. Never forgetting CJC's Buckshot, 1/2/07-10/25/10.

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I should also mention that the first time I use a new treat, he will work REALLY hard for it. I got roast beef at the deli last week, and he went nuts for it. Great focus throughout class, did everything perfectly. But no more than a week later, I had to give it away after class because he wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. Hot dogs and cheese used to be my standbys, but he could care less about those now. Once he's made up his mind that he's done with that particular treat, he's done (even weeks later when I try to rotate the old treats back in).

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If he's regularly over threshold and acting disinterested during training, that would be a signal that it isn't the right training method / technique / environment for the dog. 99.9999999% of training should be fun.

 

It's really hit or miss. He's only been over threshold twice throughout the whole six week class. A more appropriate word would be unmotivated, rather than disinterested. Last week, he worked for chicken steamed in chicken broth (new), but wouldn't touch hot dogs, roast beef, or beef steak (old). He's also always VERY interested in whatever kinds of treats the trainers are using and will do whatever commands they ask because those are also new to him.

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I'd agree with skipping a training session when he's getting fussy. Also try to work him when he's hungry.

 

How about starting with training that he knows how to do well and then working on training that is more difficult? He may be smart enough to know the difference!

 

Have you ever tried exploring training with toy and play as the reward? This might be something new to try.

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I like Xtrawld's suggestion. My Summer won't usually work for treats -- she won't work for toys, either -- but she WILL work for praise and loving. So that's what I used all through agility last summer. Perhaps toys or loving will work for your boy?

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I have the same problem. I almost think it is a mental thing though rather than being picky. He will usually eat it if he sees Karma getting it or if it is in his food bowl, but for training I have yet to find anything that motivates him for more than about 10 minutes. I don't have any solutions, that is why we don't do training class, only small 5-10 minute training sessions at home which he seems to enjoy. You could try not feeding him on training days until class and have a variety of treats so he doesn't know what he will get.

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I have the same problem. I almost think it is a mental thing though rather than being picky. He will usually eat it if he sees Karma getting it or if it is in his food bowl, but for training I have yet to find anything that motivates him for more than about 10 minutes.

 

YES. I'm glad you understand what I mean because I don't think I explained it very well in my original post. :unsure

 

It's not that he hates class or he's so stressed he can't function. I don't want it to sound like I'm forcing him to endure something he doesn't want to do, because even though he's recently been having some anxiety, he mostly enjoys class. Always has. He's simply not motivated to work for treats unless it's one that's "new" to him. The reason I know that is because in these instances, he WILL work EXHUBERANTLY for the "new" treats. But even if I have a variety of 3-4 old treats, he will either ignore them or spit them out. It's becoming a problem now that's I'm running out of treats to try. I've been trying to trick him by phasing the old ones back in, but he's calling my bluff every single time. So frustrating when your dog is smarter than you are!

 

I give him praise for some stuff, but that's doesn't always work when the command requires a lure...

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Guest sireltonsmom

I like Xtrawld's suggestion. My Summer won't usually work for treats -- she won't work for toys, either -- but she WILL work for praise and loving. So that's what I used all through agility last summer. Perhaps toys or loving will work for your boy?

I second this -- Beau went thru a prison training program and actually works for love and pets and kisses. He isn't treat driven. This is worth a try. Mindy will turn herself inside out for treats. Dogs are different!

:ghplaybow:gh_runner

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Here ya go...it's greyhound crack: http://nothingadded.ca/store/ Scroll down to beef lung, yes it's pricey but it's smelly and you can break it easily into pieces!

 

I just bought a massive bag, if you want I can mail you a few pieces that way you don't have to order if he doesn't like it. Crack in the mail! lol

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Guest Giselle

Can you take a video? From what you describe, this sounds more stress related than food related. If Truman is still new at this whole training-while-under-mild-duress thing, he's probably refusing food because he's too aroused. Changing the food can temporarily sway the odds in your favor, but I think it's a temporary fix. For what it's worth, it takes a *long* time for dogs to learn how to stay motivated under stress. It takes a lot of patience and lots of small frequent practice.

 

A couple ways to gauge stress and arousal:

1) Does the dog spend a significant amount of time scanning the environment?

2) As soon as you open the car door and release the dog, does he immediately shift his focus back on you? Or does he stare away and get easily distracted by the environment?

3) If you do nothing in the classroom setting, does the dog automatically tune back on you? If so, how long does it take? If not, what is he focusing on?

4) Does he "yo-yo" between focusing on you and performing behaviors... and then periodically sniffs the ground/scans/stares at something else?

5) Does he respond to his name with 90% accuracy and precision? How long does it take for a reaction?

 

Just some ideas to help us get a better sense of what would be best to manipulate for Truman's success: is it actually the food or is it a stress problem?

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I can only train when my dogs are hungry, so the morning of a training class or therapy visit, Brandi doesn't get breakfast or will only get a small amount. We also work with the 'rule of 5'. In my training pouch I need a combination of 5 different training treats mixed up, say roast beef, cheese, rotisserie chicken, fish jerky and yoghurt drops. She only gets these things when she's working. Then she never knows what she's going to get so its different every time in the class. Would this be worth trying?

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Kili will refuse food or spit it out when she is interested in something else. She'll do it when she's severely stressed as well, but when mildly stressed her focus and food motivation actually improve. When she's distracted (wants to meet another dog or person, sees a furry creature, etc) she will refuse to take even the best treats... or more frustrating still she'll spit them back out. New and stinky Eli's but is not a guarantee.

 

When she gets like this I simply stop. We stand still. I don't ask her to do anything. I just wait her out. When she gives me even the slightest attention I click and treat. We might go minutes between treats. Eventually she becomes less interested in the other stuff and starts giing me attention quicker and quicker. It helps to work on giving you attention in less distracting places too so that the idea transfers better when distracted.

Kristie and the Apex Agility Greyhounds: Kili (ATChC AgMCh Lakilanni Where Eagles Fly RN IP MSCDC MTRDC ExS Bronze ExJ Bronze ) and Kenna (Lakilanni Kiss The Sky RN MADC MJDC AGDC AGEx AGExJ). Waiting at the Bridge: Retired racer Summit (Bbf Dropout) May 5, 2005-Jan 30, 2019

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Guest Clawsandpaws

If Dudley ever turned his nose up at any food, I would be rushing him to the E-vet. LOL. On a serious note, I don't know what to do when a dog is disinterested during training, BUT I have found some awesome treats that all our kennel dogs go bananas for.

 

Bacon, dehydrated livers, freeze-dried liver, cheap smelly bil-jac training treats, sardines, mackerel, basically anything that has a strong smell. You could also try making your own treats, but regularly adding an extra smelly ingredient. A good base is:

 

1 cup white or whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup shredded carrots
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup honey
1 egg

Baked at 350 for about 40 mins. You can tweak the recipe a bit, sometimes I don't have all the ingredients, and it generally comes out fine, just a different consistency, but if you cut the pieces small it won't matter.

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Can you take a video? From what you describe, this sounds more stress related than food related. If Truman is still new at this whole training-while-under-mild-duress thing, he's probably refusing food because he's too aroused. Changing the food can temporarily sway the odds in your favor, but I think it's a temporary fix. For what it's worth, it takes a *long* time for dogs to learn how to stay motivated under stress. It takes a lot of patience and lots of small frequent practice.

 

A couple ways to gauge stress and arousal:

1) Does the dog spend a significant amount of time scanning the environment?

2) As soon as you open the car door and release the dog, does he immediately shift his focus back on you? Or does he stare away and get easily distracted by the environment?

3) If you do nothing in the classroom setting, does the dog automatically tune back on you? If so, how long does it take? If not, what is he focusing on?

4) Does he "yo-yo" between focusing on you and performing behaviors... and then periodically sniffs the ground/scans/stares at something else?

5) Does he respond to his name with 90% accuracy and precision? How long does it take for a reaction?

 

Just some ideas to help us get a better sense of what would be best to manipulate for Truman's success: is it actually the food or is it a stress problem?

 

Giselle, to answer some of your questions, yes. I definitely think it's related to stress. He does spend a significant amount of time scanning. He also yo-yo's between performing and being distracted. Strangely enough, though, he doesn't seem very distracted by the other dogs. It's everything else in the room. Last week, he spent a good 30 seconds sniffing somebody's backpack. If we're just sitting there and not actively working on focus exercises, he'll try to wander away to sniff and look around. There's a huge window that he's always trying to look out. A lot of the time, he'll work hard for the first part of class, but then we hit a brick wall. When this happens, he's still behaving appropriately, but he's totally tuned out to me. I can say his name and put the lure directly in front of his nose, but he'll refuse both eye contact and the treat. He does respond to his name or the word "look" probably 90% of the time, but sometimes I have to say the word two or three times. If he doesn't respond by the third time, I stop asking because then I know he's really stressed and I've probably already lost him.

 

The trainer suggested trying higher value treats, which as you said, does work temporarily. The first day I brought roast beef, he went absolutely crazy for it. He had great focus in class and did every command perfectly. I used roast beef through the week, and he continued to work hard for it through the first couple sessions. But fast forward to training class that next week, and he was back to spitting it out. He did work for the chicken I brought (another "new" treat), but now he's getting bored of that. Like I said, I'm still bringing a variety of treats to class, but he'll refuse to take anything he's already had before. Also, I don't give him any kibble before class, so I know he's hungry when he's refusing treats. I'm betting that he would refuse a toy also. Like I said, he does respond to pets and verbal praise, but that's not usually enough of a motivator for me to get the desired behavior.

 

This is more of a side note, but... while I feel like we are making progress on his leash reactivity issues, his behavior is still very hit or miss. Two weeks ago when we walked at the lake, he was an absolute nightmare. Relentlessly pulling the leash, barking and lunging at every dog. Then this weekend, at the same location and similar circumstances, his behavior was excellent. There was some kind of event going on with loud music, people, bicyclists, and quite a few other dogs. At one point, we walked between two groups of people with dogs- a black GSD on one side, and a huge newfie on the other. Big dogs (and also black dogs) are both triggers for Truman, but he managed to pass by without even acknowledging them. The one difference is that prior to leash walking, I let him run off leash in the empty section of the dog park. So I'm wondering if perhaps his problems are related to his energy level. It might help me to "pre-exercise" him off-leash before we do any leash work. Because when he's tired, his behavior is significantly better. I'm conflicted though, because that's almost like cheating. The goal, eventually, is for him to focus and listen to me no matter how amped up he is. But in order to continue establishing positive introductions and below-threshold experiences, maybe it would help as a short-term solution? I don't know what to think. He has made progress in class, and hasn't had any reactive moments there in awhile.

 

And I guess my other question is this. He's about to turn 2 at the end of this month. Is it possible that this behavior is still part of adolesence, or is this ultimately the dog he's grown up to be? I know he went through some very exaggerated puppy stages, but he managed to come out of those mostly on his own. I can't help but feeling I've failed in some ways because he's been socialized and in some type of formal obedience class since he was 15-weeks-old. How do these negative behaviors crop up, when seemingly, I've really tried to do everything right? Like, leash reactivity is the last thing I thought I'd be dealing with since he's had hundreds of positive experiences on leash with other dogs. Why is he always losing focus when we have worked on "look" and eye contact since the day he came home. It's all so frustrating.

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And I guess my other question is this. He's about to turn 2 at the end of this month. Is it possible that this behavior is still part of adolesence, or is this ultimately the dog he's grown up to be? I know he went through some very exaggerated puppy stages, but he managed to come out of those mostly on his own. I can't help but feeling I've failed in some ways because he's been socialized and in some type of formal obedience class since he was 15-weeks-old. How do these negative behaviors crop up, when seemingly, I've really tried to do everything right? Like, leash reactivity is the last thing I thought I'd be dealing with since he's had hundreds of positive experiences on leash with other dogs. Why is he always losing focus when we have worked on "look" and eye contact since the day he came home. It's all so frustrating.

 

Boy oh boy do I know that feeling! When Kili went through that really bad fear phase I wondered if I should have socialized her more and how could she suddenly be so afraid when I had socialized the heck out of her. I worried that was the dog she was. I just wanted her back to her normal self. Well, be careful what you wish for. She is back to herself, which is a total social butterfly. Ultimately that is the base personality I want, however it is incredibly difficult to work with in group agility classes during any off leash work because she immediately wants to run off and ignore me.

 

Kili is also right now going through another phase. I call it her distraction or concern phases. She's not overtly afraid of things but she notices EVERYTHING from smells to sounds to sights. Everything is a distraction to her. Walking her is a nightmare. Some days I just sit outside with her and click and treat for attention.

 

Dogs do have their second fear phase around 2 years. Maybe that's what he's going through right now. It may be that this too will pass. Did this all come on rather suddenly? How long has he been acting this way?

Kristie and the Apex Agility Greyhounds: Kili (ATChC AgMCh Lakilanni Where Eagles Fly RN IP MSCDC MTRDC ExS Bronze ExJ Bronze ) and Kenna (Lakilanni Kiss The Sky RN MADC MJDC AGDC AGEx AGExJ). Waiting at the Bridge: Retired racer Summit (Bbf Dropout) May 5, 2005-Jan 30, 2019

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Not referring to George--'cause I love him, but he is not my obedience training project dog--I never use treats. I prefer praise only teaching. The only exception would be when I am just starting to teach recall. But after that? Best not to always need a pouch full of treats to get your dog to do what you want. Just my two cents.


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Did this all come on rather suddenly? How long has he been acting this way?

 

Yes, very suddenly. Last year, he had a bad experience (almost attacked by a bully while I was leading him away by the colllar) at the dog park. Then recently, he was rushed by a boxer on leash. So for lack of any other explanation, I've been chalking it up to those two things. But yeah, he used to be happy and social on leash. Now, for whatever reason, he's VERY anxious. He has a lot of strange leash-aggression and leash-frustration behaviors.

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I think based on what you're saying I would go with Krissy's advice in class. When he tunes out, just wait for him to look back at you and click and treat. Stop asking him to perform or learn "difficult" behaviors. As he starts to refocus, ask for something incredibly easy for him. I like to use "touch" or "target" since my dogs always learn that early on and it's a really easy behavior once they have, plus we can make it fun by me raising my hand so they have to jump to reach the target, or moving my hand around in all kinds of different positions quickly to make it something of a game.

 

Once he's checked back in through that, try going back to whatever exercise is being worked on. If he can't handle it, just stick with rewarding for attention or simple known behaviors for the rest of class.

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Guest Giselle

Yes, given what you've written, it is most definitely a stress problem and not a food problem. Changing food will sway the odds in your favor, but, yup, gotta hit the problem at the source and work Truman through the stress.

 

I think, when you hit a "wall", you've got several options and many methods. The one you choose may change from day to day, according to your emotional strength, according to Truman's, according to how much physical space you have to work with, according to what the environment is like. BUT, given all that, I generally choose to do several things:

- Move away from the situation. Physically distance yourself to a lower stress area. It may seem like you're taking 3 steps back, but it is necessary to keep the dog with us.

- Ask for easy behaviors to regain their focus. I also like Targeting games because they're easy and they're fun.

- Ask for an easy impulse control behavior. After Targeting games, I'll then place the dog in an "Emergency Down", and have the dog do a prolonged Down-Stay for at least 1-2 minutes. Ideally, I'd leave the dog in a Down-Stay until he offers me automatic eye contact by himself! Then, I know he is comfortable enough to focus, and he is choosing to do so. That's the behavior we want to foster.

 

So, prior to doing all this, I practice Emergency Downs 10-20 times a day, in all different situations, with all sorts of distractions. It's like Karen Overall's Relaxation Protocol on crack ;) It comes in EXTREMELY handy. It is especially useful for cutting short a reactive outburst and helps you regain control in the ugliest situations.

 

Edit: Also, the short bursts of progress coupled with unfortunate lapses of behavior are very common. In my experience, they're due to handler errors. I notice they become rarer as your skills increase and your eye for body language sharpens. I'd chalk it up to dumb human mistakes and just take it as a learning experience. Every step forward IS progress. Keep at it!

Edited by Giselle
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Guest Giselle

Not referring to George--'cause I love him, but he is not my obedience training project dog--I never use treats. I prefer praise only teaching. The only exception would be when I am just starting to teach recall. But after that? Best not to always need a pouch full of treats to get your dog to do what you want. Just my two cents.

Animals *need* to work. It's called contra-freeloading. They find more satisfaction in working for their food than eating for free. Moreover, dogs are intelligent creatures who constantly need to find new ways of interacting with their environment. Their love for the outdoors and for exploring is inherently tied to their love of learning about their environment. I would argue that we're doing our dogs a service by training them and rewarding them with food they'd otherwise receive for free. Scientific research has also shown that animals who receive plentiful enrichment, including training and behavior modification, have more meaningful neural synaptic connections and could be argued to be "more adaptable/creative/mentally plastic". So, no, I think it's better to have a "pouch full of treats" to reward the dog for desirable behavior. It's not about "doing what we want". It's about strengthening good behavior and increasing the likelihood that it will occur again. Dog training and learning theory aren't about being emotionally manipulative. They're about using a wide variety of reinforcers and aversives to strengthen and weaken behaviors. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less.

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