Top 3 Separation Anxiety Training Tips

Separation Anxiety is extremely common, and can be hard to cure.

This is a problem that can show up in any age of dog. Some dogs display it by being vocal, others by being destructive. Separation anxiety is a frustrating behavior issue because you generally aren’t there to see it, and adjusting your schedule around your dog can be problematic.

Fortunately, there are several steps that you can take to make your dog more comfortable in your absence. Here are our top three separation anxiety training tips.

1) Create healthy separation while you are home.

If your dog is having issues when you are just in the next room, they will definitely struggle when you leave for work. The first step that you should take is to establish some healthy separation in the home.

Make your dog’s crate an enjoyable place when you are home. Feed her all of her meals in there and give her interactive toys such as stuffed Kong’s in the crate. Periodically put her in the crate for 10-15 minute periods for no reason. You can even be in the same room! Your dog is only allowed out when they are calm and quiet.Dogs relaxing in crates separation anxiety training

Temper and Mo are able to totally relax in their x-pen while I am answering emails.

Gradually increase the amount of time that your dog spends in the crate. You should start to see your dog become more and more comfortable staying calm when you walk into the next room.

You should also teach your dog stays and a place commands. These are behaviors where your dog will have to show self control when you walk away. You can reinforce your dog heavily for these behaviors, and show them that you going further away isn’t a bad thing. Gradually increase the distance and duration of these commands.

Group class stays
Stays and places give you a chance to reward your dog for being away from you.

2) Staying calm will help your dog to stay calm.

It’s nice to come home to a happy dog after a long day at work. Most people shower their dog with affection as soon as they walk through the door. While people do this with the best of intentions, it can have a negative affect on your dog’s state of mind.

If you have a dog who is struggling with separation anxiety training, you need to be careful not to reinforce the wrong things. Your dog has been anxious all day waiting for you to come back. If you walk through the door and make a big deal about them, it reinforces their thought process that things were bad when you were gone, and are now good since you are back.

Instead, come home and immediately let your dog out in the backyard or take them for a short walk.

Do not give them petting and attention until you have been home for 20-30 minutes and your dog is completely calm.

Doing this will change the way that your dog perceives you coming home. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love your dog and that you can’t give them affection, it just means that your dog shouldn’t see you coming home as the most exciting part of the day.

Dog with toy
Your dog should be most excited about playing with you and training with you, not just seeing you walk through the door.

3) Take advantage of technology.

Separation anxiety training methods have changed quite a bit over the years. One of the biggest changes has come from new technology that is available.

As mentioned earlier, one of the hardest things about this issue is that it happens when you aren’t around. This means that it can be hard to monitor progress, or to reward your dog for the right things.

One thing that you can do is set up a camera in your dog’s area so that you can see them from anywhere. We personally recommend the Nest Camera system, which can be easily connected to your phone so that you can monitor training progress from anywhere.

Separation anxiety training with treat and train
The Treat and Train is a great tool for separation anxiety training!

Another great tool is the Manner’s Minder, or Treat and Train. This machine can sit right on top of a wire crate, and can be set up to deliver treats to your dog either with a remote or on a timer. This means that you can reinforce calm behavior from the other side of the house. You can even set it on a timer before you leave for work, so that your dog is periodically rewarded throughout the day.

Be Patient

Separation anxiety didn’t develop overnight, and it takes time to bring your dog into the right frame of mind. If your dog suffers a setback, don’t get discouraged. Consistency is key in all areas of dog training, and over time you will see great results if you stick with it.

If you have any further questions about these tips, contact us for more information.

When Behavioral Problems Aren’t Behavioral

Today I met a couple who are struggling with potty training issues with their young Biewer terrier.

They have been trying to house train her for weeks with no improvement. When they take her out, she will go, but then she goes again as soon as they bring her inside.

They are understandably frustrated by the lack of progress. In the hour that they were at the facility, the little dog peed three separate times. That threw up a red flag to me, and I recommended that they head to the vet to check for a UTI.

Health Related Potty Training Issues

There are a few different health issues that can affect house training. Urinary tract infections are the biggest culprit. Commonly an issue with female dogs, this issue can put a dent in your training. Fortunately, it can easily be solved with a round of antibiotics from your veterinarian.

Other issues can also cause regression in potty training. Kidney infections or kidney disease can result in urinary problems. Older dogs may struggle with incontinence. Some spayed females will also have issues in this area.

Puppy behavioral issues with trainer

How can you tell if the issue is health or behavioral?

If your dog has been doing really well with house training, and suddenly has issues, a trip to your veterinarian is in order. Other red flags include:

  • Seeming unable to “hold it”
  • Puppies who don’t seem to make progress
  • Dogs who go multiple times in a short period
  • Discolored urine
  • Lethargy or acting uncomfortable
  • Increased thirst

If you notice any of these symptoms, your dog should receive a veterinary exam. Bloodwork or a urinalysis may be needed to discover the cause.

Health Issues Related to Aggression

Aggression from a dog is always concerning. It can be particularly distressing when it shows up in a dog that never had those type of issues before.

Aggressive shepherd dog

Sudden changes in behavior always warrant a health check. Thyroid issues are often the cause of sudden changes in behavior. Thyroid levels can be checked with bloodwork, and your vet can prescribe a medication to help your dog return to normal.

Pain can also cause your dog to lash out aggressively. Dogs who have joint issues, an injury, or worsening arthritis may be extra defensive of their space. This can even be seen with sick dogs.

My dog Modoc was diagnosed with IBD, an autoimmune condition, when he was just under two years old. He has intermittent flares, and one of the symptoms of this is him getting grumpier.

This phenomenon has been seen in multiple studies that looked at how GI issues related to behavior. GI imbalances in rats and humans led to more anti-social behavior.

Lastly, neurological conditions can cause aggressive behavioral issues. Certain types of epilepsy can show up in this manner. Dogs with brain tumors may also show a sudden change in behavior that it otherwise without cause.

Health Issues Related to Fear

Some dogs will suddenly develop phobias that they never had before. One case that I saw was an agility dog who started to refuse weave poles. She was unhappy when asked to weave, and would regularly miss poles.

Disc doc Zoe
Reluctance to do normal activities can be a sign of injury.

This was a dog that normally loved agility. She had a great trainer, had no other behavioral issues, and had trialed extensively.

When this behavior started up, her trainer responded just as she should. She took the dog to the vet, because sudden behavioral changes are often health related.

An exam and x-ray of her dog’s foot revealed a broken toe. It wasn’t a bad enough injury to affect normal life, but it made weaving painful for the dog.

Some rest and recuperation were prescribed, and the dog went on the successfully start agility again and run for many more years.

Injuries like these can often cause a more sensitive dog to show fear or apprehension. Sometimes the injury can be very small, other times it might be a more serious issue.

Be An Advocate For Your Dog

When you live with a dog, you really get to know them. You know their quirks, their favorite snacks, and what their favorite activities are. If you notice sudden changes in your pet, make sure to monitor them.

Don’t be too quick to assume that your dog is being too stubborn or obstinate. Sometimes it’s as simple as a UTI or a stubbed toe.

5 Reasons to Do The Canine Good Citizen Test

Part of being a responsible dog owner is making sure that your dog is well mannered. That can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, so the American Kennel Club came up with a program to standardize it. The Canine Good Citizen test is a way of showing that your dog has met the minimum standard for a dog being well behaved in public.

cgc logo

Some people take the test because their trainer recommended it. Others take it because they wanted a certificate. Here are 5 other reasons why you should consider taking the CGC test with your dog.

1. Goal Setting

The journey to a trained dog can be a long road, and it is good to have checkpoints along the way. The CGC has to be taken without toys, treats, or training collars. This makes it a great way to measure how good you have done fading tools out.

The test items are diverse to test all aspects of training. If your dog has issues with separation anxiety, passing the Supervised Separation item is a big deal. Having that item as a clear goal can help you have something to aim for.

german-shepherd

Not every dog passes the test the first time they try. You may find that your dog misses an item or two. Instead of looking at this as a failure, try to look it as information. If your dog makes mistakes in the heeling items, that tells you what you need to work on next.

2. A Stepping Stone to Bigger Things

The Canine Good Citizen test is the simplest obedience test offered by the AKC. Passing the test is a good goal to reach for, but there are other things out there. Performance and working events are great fun for dogs, and are options once your dog knows the basics.

Rally and obedience are activities offered by the AKC that build upon the skills already covered in the CGC. Sports like agility and flyball are high energy, and often high distraction. Having a dog that knows how to navigate crowds is a great asset in these sports.

cattle dog awards

The sport of Mondioring in the United States uses the CGC as one of their temperament tests. A dog must past a temperament test before they can compete. This ensures that the dog’s on the field are safe to be around.

The CGC is also a good starting point for new handlers. You might find it intimidating to stand in front of a judge with your dog. Doing it in a lower pressure environment with the CGC can help you gain confidence before trying other sports.

3. Better Insurance Rates and Housing Options

Finding housing with a dog can be a struggle. You may have a hard time finding a place to rent, getting homeowner’s insurance, or even living in certain areas altogether. One way that you can improve your odds is to have your dog pass the Canine Good Citizen test.

Many landlords don’t like to rent to people with dogs, especially large breeds. There are risks to them in terms of damage to property and liability. When your dog passes the CGC, you get a certificate that you can show to your landlord as proof that your dog is well mannered and trained.

Some insurance companies are catching on to how great this test is. Some companies will raise your rates drastically with a dog, or even deny you based on the type of dog you have. The Canine Good Citizen test can be used to keep your rates reasonable.

4. Keeping Your Standards High

Training your dog isn’t something that you ever really finish. After your dog learns a command, it needs to be tested around distractions, and then you have to maintain it. It can be easy to let old behaviors start to creep back into the picture in the years following a training program.

cynosport down stay

If you make the decision to take the CGC test every year or two, you have a standard to maintain. It is much easier to keep things going strong than to have to fix issues before the test. Staying invested in the long term will have big benefits for both you and your dog.

5. Setting A Good Example

Dog behaviors issues are on the rise. We get more and more phone calls from people who are struggling with issues that are a big nuisance, or worse. By taking the Canine Good Citizen test, you set your dog up as an example for what other pet owners should strive for.

The test is well known amongst dog trainers, but not with the general public. Increasing awareness of the test also increases awareness of the importance of training. The more people who make that extra effort with their dog, the better off the whole community is.

belgian shepherds

Invite your friends to come watch your dog take the test. Order one of the cute CGC bandanas from the AKC so that your dog can show off. If you are talking to someone about your pet, educate them on the importance of good behavior. More community awareness will make the world a better place for our dogs. After all, a trained dog is a happy dog!

Learn More!

If you are interested in learning more about the test and where to take it, you can go to the AKC Canine Good Citizen website to find the test items, evaluators near you, and information on the advanced versions of the test.

Head Trainer Sam Adams is a CGC evaluator. Contact us if you would like to take this test in the Lexington/Louisville area.

cgc-evaluator

Training Tip: Bad Compression When Playing Tug

A good game of tug can be a great reward for toy driven dogs. Shepherds, working breeds, and terriers typically love tugging, but I’ve even had a shih tzu that enjoyed tug rewards.

One of the most common issues that I see with clients who use tugs as a reward is that their dog has bad compression. What this means is that the dog doesn’t bite down very hard on the tug toy. The toy may slip out of the dog’s mouth, they may munch on it, or they may only hold the toy with their very front teeth.

Using a leather tug or bite pillow encourages your dog to bite down harder.

If a dog bites incorrectly on a linen or jute tug, they can often still hang on because their teeth get hooked in the material. This prevents them from learning how to bite correctly. One of the best ways that I have found to avoid this is to use a toy with leather material.

In particular, I like the leather bite pillow that For Dog Trainers sells. I’ve used it with several of my personal dogs as well as working dog clients, and it really encourages a harder, fuller bite on the toy.

rottweiler-tug

dutchie-bite-pillow

If the dog doesn’t bite down hard enough, the toy will slip out of their mouth. This builds frustration, and they learn that they have to bite more fully in order to keep their prize.

You can also play with your dog while an assistant handler holds them back on a harness. Back pressure also builds frustration and motivation to get the toy, and it makes it easier for you to keep tension on the toy at all times. If you have never done harness work like this, check out davekroyer.com for video on how to be a “post”. This is a very important skill to learn for this type of work.

To reiterate, this isn’t formal protection work, just you playing tug with your dog. Another toy that you can utilize to work on this is a leather bite rag. This is a great option for dogs who love to chase things, as you can put the rag onto a flirt pole or line. Making movement with the rag encourages the same drive and frustration as the back pressure would.

chamois

Rag available here.

Here is an example of a Frenchie who needed an outlet for his energy. He loved playing tug and biting the leather rag, and it was a great way for his owner to exercise him.

These are just a few of the ways to improve your dog’s tug game.

If you have any questions about these toys and how to use them, contact us or find a training club in your area.

Success Story: Biscuit the Pomeranian

Small Dogs Need Training Too!

Biscuit is an awesome young Pomeranian who came to training because her owners wanted her to be the best she could be. Many people think that only large dogs benefit from training, but that is not the case. Biscuit is a great example of a toy breed who loves having a job and loves to learn new things. She thrived in our obedience board and train program, and is now a perfectly behaved little pom.

Laying The Groundwork

The first thing we started to do with Biscuit was introduce her to new skills that she would need. Her owner’s said that she was bad on a leash, so it was important that we teach her a solid heel command. We also taught her reliable stays and places, which help with impulse control. Stays and places also make managing your dog easier. For example, instead of your dog being under foot while you are cooking dinner, they can be relaxing on their bed in a place command.

Biscuit had great food drive, so it was easy to motivate her to do new things. Like all dogs, she did have her quirks. She liked to spin in circles when she got excited, which is a common trait to find with a pomeranian. We taught her a new default of a sit when she got excited. However, this is a genetic trait, so it will never completely go away. We gave the owners lots of ways to manage the behavior so that it did not progress into something obsessive compulsive.

More Advanced Training

Once Biscuit showed that she understood all of her training very well, we started adding more distractions. This included lots of dogs running around, people calling her or petting her, and food distractions. When we train a dog, we do not want them to just listen in the living room. Our goal is for the dog to listen and be responsive no matter what is going on around them.

Biscuit also had a few small behavioral issues that we had to tackle. Small breeds can run into dental issues, so Biscuit’s owners wanted to brush her teeth regularly. Biscuit had other ideas, and would be very hyper and mouthy when the toothbrush came out. We taught her how to be calm and accepting of the teeth brushing, which made her owner’s life way easier. It also is great for Biscuit. As a former vet tech, I saw many a pomeranian with dental issues. Preventing these issues saves lots of stress on the dog later on. Biscuit would also jump all over guests and onto furniture, and it was becoming an issue at home. We showed Biscuit that the key to getting attention was to sit nicely, not to jump all over.

Success Story: Roxy the Doberman Puppy

Roxy: Hyper Red Doberman Puppy

Roxy came for a foundation board and train program when she was four months old. Her owners were struggling with managing her high energy. She jumped on all the guests, ran around the house, chewed on furniture, and was difficult to walk on leash. Fortunately, Roxy’s owners brought her in at a young age so that we could get her learning the right things, right away.

Evaluating Roxy’s Drives

One of the first things that we do with a new training student is to evaluate their drives. We need to find things that the dog finds motivating so that we have ways to reward her for good behavior. Like most doberman puppies, Roxy had very high food and toy drive. We used her high food drive to teach her a variety of obedience skills. The toy drive allowed us to teach her a game of retrieve. Retrieve is a great game for any puppy, because it burns both mental and physical energy and helps with bonding.

New Life Skills

Roxy learned all of her basic obedience commands while with us. The commands that we taught her in her week of board and training include: sit, down, heel, come, place, kennel, and out. It is important to do age appropriate training with a puppy. Short, frequent sessions were the perfect fit for Roxy. We did not ask her for as much duration in her places, sits, and downs as we would with an adult dog. Her reinforcement rate was also kept very high so that she finds obedience training fun and worthwhile.

Socialization Time!

Another crucial aspect of training any puppy is proper socialization. Many people think that socialization means letting your puppy meet all kinds of people and other dogs, but that is not the case. Socialization trips with Roxy involved going to places with lots of distractions and having her work for some food. She gets to take in all of the sights and sounds while starting to understand that she should stay focused around distractions. Roxy was already a very confident puppy, so we just built upon her natural personality.

Roxy’s Next Steps

As Roxy gets more mature, her owners can ask her for more and more effort. She will be able to handle more distractions, longer duration behaviors, and further distance away on stays. Starting all of this training at a young age means that Roxy will only get better and better. She also will not need to have bad habits corrected, because she learned how to do things right from the beginning.

Success Story: Blue the Lab Puppy

Training A Yellow Lab Puppy

Bringing home a new puppy is a happy and exciting occasion. Puppies are cute, cuddly, and love to be involved with everything you do. However, there are some common issues that arise with puppies. We started training Blue because he was struggling with several of these very common problems.

You may find that your puppy likes to chew on both fingers and furniture. This is especially common during teething, and with breeds like labs that were bred to use their mouth a lot. We gave Blue plenty of good things to chew on to give him an outlet. Kongs, Everlasting Balls, and Nylabones make great toys for puppies. We also corrected the chewing on furniture and mouthing on people. Showing Blue right and wrong helps him make the right choice in the future.

kong-dog-toy

Blue was also a bad jumper. He would jump on the children, on guests, and on anybody he met on walks. This behavior might be cute when Blue was a tiny puppy, but it was getting dangerous as he grew. We interrupted the jumping, and taught him a sit as a default behavior for greetings.

Blue also pulled on leash when out for walks. Nearly every lab puppy that we see has this issue because they are just so excited to be out and about. We channeled his excitement into heeling, and gave him a job to do when on walks.

This little guy was also very “busy” in the house. He always wanted to be right in the middle of the kids playing or when dinner was being cooked. We taught him a solid place command to allow him to still be part of everything without being in the middle of it. To encourage Blue to really love his place, we fed him all of his meals up there.

Lastly, we wanted to give Blue some outlets that were breed appropriate. Obedience is a great outlet for mental energy in any dog. Retrieve is also a fabulous outlet, especially for a high energy lab puppy.

After a two week stay with us, Blue had all of the tools he needed to be a fabulous pet. We did lessons with his owners to show them exactly how to handle him. This is extremely important, because consistency is key in dog training. Now Blue is much easier to live with and enjoy.

Blue’s Graduation Video

If you are interested in training for your puppy, please check out our puppy training programs.

Success Story: Maison the Boxer Service Dog

Maison the Boxer |Service Dog Obedience

We have a very high standard of behavior for all of the dogs that graduate from our programs. Our service dog graduates take it to a whole different level with their advanced training. Maison is a boxer that we originally trained when he was six months old. We taught him all of his commands, good manners, and introduced him to working around distractions.

Maison returned at a little over a year old to build upon his skills. Now that he is more mature, we can expect more from him. The amount of distractions that he can perform around is much higher, and he can also work for a longer period of time.

boxer service dog in target

During this second training program, we added in three elements that are essential for any service dog.

  • Advanced Obedience
  • Public Access
  • Task Training/Work

We raised our standards for Maison’s obedience by having him work for longer spans of time, and by making the exercises harder. We added an off leash aspect to all of his commands, and increased the duration of his stays and places. We also added lots of food distractions, as he is highly food motivated and will have to deal with lots of food distractions during his career.

Next, we started to tackle his public access work. Some of the places that Maison went with us while in training was the mall, the airport, Target, Walmart, and a restaurant. Because he is still a service dog in training at this point, we are always very diligent about ensuring he is acting appropriately. He did wonderfully, and most people were amazed to see a boxer being so calm and well mannered.

Lastly, we started his task work. Maison is training to be a balance assistance dog. One of the main things that he needs to do is help his owner get out of chairs. We taught him a brace command to allow him to do this. Whenever he gets the cue “brace” he will stand and be steady while his handler uses a handle on his vest to stand up. His other tasks include retrieval of dropped objects and counterbalance on stairs.

Maison won’t be a fully fledged service dog until he is 18-24 months old. We’ve laid all the foundation for a long career of balance assistance for this young boxer. He started his task training and public access with us, as well as obtaining his CGC and CGCA.

If you are interested in getting your dog this well trained, please check out our programs.

If you would like to learn more about the CGC and CGCA titles and what they are like, you can find out more here.

Royal Canin National Championship Dog Show

Largest Dog Show in the United States

Formerly sponsered by Eukanuba, the newly christened Royal Canin AKC National Championship was held this year on December 17-18 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL. This show is the largest in the United States, with more than 3,500 dogs competing at the championship and the pre-shows. Most of the dogs entered are competing in conformation, an event where each dog is judged accoridng to how closely they match the breed standard. The national breed club for each breed creates this standard, and judges must know it very closely to be able to discern the smallest of differences between dogs competing in a class. One of the unique aspects to the event at the National Championship is that the year end event for the National Owner-Handled Series is on the agenda. This competition is reserved for people who are handling a dog that they own, thus hopefully preventing any bias toward professional handlers.

Agility is another event that goes on at this show. Agility is a timed obstacle course, in which the dog is not permitted to knock over bars, refuse to take an obstacle, or go over the time limit without incurring penalty points, or faults. The agility event at the AKC National Championship is unique because it features a huge variety of breeds. Only the top 5 dogs in each breed are invited to compete at the AKC Agility Invitational, so you may see some breeds there that you seldom see at a local trial. The winners of the finals this year were very diverse: Portugese Pondengo Pequeno (8″), Pembroke Welsh Corgi (12″), Shetland Sheepdog (16″), Brittany spaniel (20″), and a Belgian Sheepdog (24″).

Obedience is one of the longest running parts of this event, although the competition format has changed in recent years. During competition obedience, a dog and handler must demonstrate high levels of precision and accuracy throughout a series of obedience excercises. Some of these include scent discrimination (finding an item with the handler’s scent) and a signal excercise (the handler must use only hand signals to communicate to the dog). Dogs can qualify for Novice, Open, and Utility by obtaining 3 qualifying scores at their level during the year. In order to qualify for Masters, the best of the best, a dog must also demonstrate that they can play in the big leagues by having scores above 193 out of a possible 200.

Dock Diving is a relatively new addition to the National Championship line-up. The dock diving event is organized by the North America Diving Dogs, an organization that has partnered with the AKC to make dock diving titles recognized on AKC pedigrees. The iconic event in dock diving are the distance jumps, where the dogs run off the dock after their toy, and the longest jump wins the division. Another event in NADD is vertical, where the dogs jump straigt up off the dock to snag a bumper that is suspended as high at 7 feet off the dock. The final event is air retrieve, where the bumper is instead suspended out over the water in the pool, and the dogs have to leap off and snag the bumper before they hit the water. No matter which event is going on, dock diving is always a crowd favorite.

Meet the Breeds is a very popular event for the general public as well as more hard core dog people. Breed clubs will set up booths for their indivudual breeds, decorate them to demonstrate the dog’s heritage, and they will have representatives of their breed there for people to meet and interact with. If you are considering a new puppy, this is a fantastic way to meet a variety of breeds and talk to their breeders and owners.

Shopping is a huge allure for many of the national championship show patrons. There are vendors at the show for just about every dog item imaginable. Some of my favorite vendors are MAX 200, a company that makes fantastic agility and obedience equipment, and Primo Pads, a company that makes the kind of dog beds that I use in all of the crates for both my personal dogs and the training dogs. Other vendors include photographers, dog themed clothing, dog treats, grooming supplies, and custom crates.

Health in purebred dogs is something that has been the subject of much debate, derision, and criticism.  The AKC and breeders everywhere are becoming increasingly comitted to the health of purebred dogs, and a big part of this is making sure that dogs are screened for genetic issues before they are bred, to avoid passing problems to the next generation. Seminars were given at the show on topics such as nutrition and neonatology, and the Canine Health Foundation was in attendance providing education to breeders as well as pet owners. 

Me and My Crew

I was very excited to attend one of the pre-shows on Friday, and then to come back again on Saturday for one of the national championship days. It’s one of the few shows a year that people will travel from all corners of the country to attend, so I was able to spend time with some friends that I only see on rare occasion, if ever. Modoc and Wild both got to attend, and the environment at this show is nearly impossible to replicate in terms of the sheer number of distractions and proofing opportunities.

Even getting to the convention center was exciting, with Modoc getting a golf cart ride and Wild getting his first bus ride. Both dogs would certainly have preferred to be competing in agility rather than watching on the sidelines, and hopefully we will qualify to go sometime down the road. Due to the sheer size of the event, it’s unlikely that the National Championship will change venue anytime soon. Orlando is a nice place to be in December, and this will likely become an annual event for us in conjunction with a trip North for the Crown Classic in Cleveland.

Selecting Training Treats

Food rewards are some of the most useful training rewards in a trainer’s toolbox. They are highly motivating, allow for many repetitions, and it’s easy to adjust reward value through type and volume. There are several factors that you should consider when selecting the right type of food to use for training, and making the correct choice can  mean that you can train behaviors quicker and increase the quality of performance for existing behaviors. 

Using Your Dog’s Meals

With young puppies, I almost exclusively use their kibble for all training treats. There are several reasons for this, one of which is simply increasing bonding time with your puppy. When all of his meals come from you and activities with you, it helps build a very strong bond with your new addition, rather than a relationship with a food bowl. Using kibble for training also means that you can be in complete control of nutrition and calories, which can be difficult when you are also using high calorie treats during training sessions. Kibble rewards are also excellent for building and maintaining food drive. On the overall scale of food value, kibble is not a high value reward at all. When your puppy learns from a young age that kibble is a fun reward, you have the whole remainder of the scale to use for jackpots and higher level rewards. Many people get caught in the trap of only using high level treats like hot dogs and commercial training treats, and their puppy may be disinterested in any lower level food rewards.

dog-treats

Hopper working on engagement for his kibble during a private lesson.

Now that’s not to say that higher level food rewards don’t have a place in the toolbox. I use them frequently with dogs that are learning to work with me for the first time, dogs that need a bit more drive for the behavior we are working on, or with dogs that are working through things in new and stimulating environments. One of the easiest types of food to use are food rolls, like those made by Red Barn and Natural Balance. These are complete foods, so you have the same benefit that kibble brings where you do not need to worry about your dog getting extra calories or having an unbalanced diet. One of the downsides to this type of food is that it can get expensive, and you will have to take the time to cut it up. Different brands vary in their ease of use. Natural Balance crumbles quite a bit, Red Barn tends to hold together better, and Happy Howie’s, although the most expensive option, holds together very well. 

Commercial Training Treats

Other commercial types of treats can be useful as well, though this is often the most expensive route to go. Some of my preferred brands are Bil Jac, Zukes, and Pet Botanics, because they are easy for dogs to chew and are already the correct size for a training treat. There are so many different products on the market, and you may find a brand that works perfectly for you and your dog. Things to look for are small size, easy to chew, and of course making sure that your dog finds the treats motivating. There are options for those who want to use all-natural treats, options for dogs with food allergies, and options for dogs who cannot eat too many extra calories. Commercial treats can also be a good route to go if you have your dog on a raw diet. Obviously feeding a raw or other type of homemade diet will not allow you to use your dog’s kibble ration as a training reward. There are, however, several different kinds of freeze dried raw foods that are available. 

Grocery Store Options

​Various kinds of “people food” can also work as training rewards. A popular choice with lots of trainers are hot dogs, because they are cheap, tasty, and easy to cut into appropriately sized pieces. This is also a controversial treat to use, because they are fatty and full of sodium. If you decide to use hot dogs as a training reward, try looking into low sodium options, or lower fat chicken and turkey hot dogs. String cheese is another popular option, and the same low fat selection applies. Baked chicken is a choice that is very healthy for your dog in addition to being tasty, although it does tend to crumble. Another more unique option is one that I picked up from some AKC obedience trainers: cheese puffs. You can buy them in large containers, and they work really well for exercises where your dog is chasing a thrown treat. They show up easily on most floors, and roll when thrown. Another interesting aspect to this treat is that they are mostly air, so you can do multiple repetitions without your dog getting full. Not the healthiest of treats, but it has some unique qualities.

Even if you find a type of reward that works for your dog in training, you may have to mix it up for time to time. My dog Wild is getting several different kinds of food rewards right now. We are working on building his motivation for tracking, and I want him to get high value food rewards when he is tracking. Because he has done most of his past training for his kibble, he finds Red Barn to be highly motivating. I would ideally have something even more valuable than that, but he is eating so much of the food that I want it to be a balanced diet. Simultaneously I am working on building duration places with another dog. I do not need or want a dog to be in a high drive state for that kind of behavior, so he gets rewarded with his kibble. When I am working on snappy position changes with the same dog, he sometimes gets hot dog jackpots to keep his motivation level higher.