Friday, January 6, 2012


I've read a lot of articles about how EVERY dog is food motivated.  The claims that dogs wouldn't be around if they were not motivated by food is obvious (they would starve if they did not have a desire to eat).   Often times I hear people in my training classes make claims when their dog is not focused..."He's full.  I gave him dinner before class," "He's bored,"  "He's just ignoring me," etc...and a simple change of food often times helps (the dogs always go ga-ga over my *new-to-them* kibble in my pouch).  The majority of dogs will work for food in a heartbeat.

However, for those of us who have a dog with a sensitive GI tract unfortunately the use of food has to be carefully conducted and limited.  That makes training in a class room environment very hard if you have a dog that is not crazy about food in the first place.  Once again, I will use Oscar as an example.  After more than a year and a half of his life, I finally got his tummy under control with the informed and gentle guidance of Monica Segal.  He was on a very strict diet and for the first time ever we were consistently getting solid stools out of him.  Woot-woot!  The diet was formulated with sweet potato, chicken, beef, turnip, carrot and the required supplements.  All of the ingredients were cooked...the chicken and beef were rinsed with hot water too.   As you can imagine it isn't easy using this "mush" to train a dog.  Still, I tried.

Around the house I would do small training sessions before his breakfast and supper (mostly nose work games where Oscar would seek out small plates of food).  He liked this, but it was sloppy. I'm OK with sloppy, but when it came time to go to doggy class, I knew there was no way I would be able to use this "mush" to deliver rapid reinforcement.  Ugh.  So, I resorted to cut up cooked chicken.  Now, most dogs go absolutely bananas for cooked meat.  Oscar...well, not so much...because he gets it every single day as part of his two meals.  I'm not making excuses by any means, but it was challenging.

So, what was I to do...I made a laundry list of things that REALLY motivate Oscar:
#1 - The garden hose (that's out...can't take that to class)
#2 - Fetch with his frisbee or a ball (that's out too b/c the actual fetch game in class is next to impossible)

I am Oscar.  And I will do anything for the Frisbee to fly.

Shit!  That's only two things.  I didn't forget to put food on the list because there was (and still is) a huge gap between #2 and food that it's not even worth it.  If he didn't have a sensitive tummy could I get him more motivated by food?  Absolutely!  But I didn't want to go there...especially after all the hard work we had done getting him to where he currently was.

As a lot of other "things" have developed in my relationship with Oscar, I decided that after his Focus & Control class I would take a break with him and just work him at and around the house.  This is still challenging, so I am trying to do a better job of identifying environmental rewards...since they are everywhere...and using those to my advantage.  Example:  Oscar really wants to go and sniff that fire hydrant.  Awesome.  I ask him for a touch, sit and watch me...if he complies, his is rewarded with a release to "Go sniff!"  If not, I give him a NRM (no reward marker) and we continue walking or walk the other direction.  Sometimes I'll give him a second chance...sometimes not, but I'm using the environment instead of competing with it and that is powerful stuff.

So, look around you...what is your dog really motivated by?   The garden hose?  Butt scratches?  Interactions with people/dogs?  Food?  Toys?  Identify the motivators and exploit them. :)

No comments:

Post a Comment