Monday, November 12, 2012

"But he'll always do it for food ..."

One huge question I often get is -- "How do I get him to do it without food, he'll always do it for food?!"   There are a few reasons why dogs will only work when food is around, there are also myths about why some trainers will not use food because they  believe that reliability won't come without the use of food. The truth is that there are people winning national titles for different sports and obedience, and they started with food or rewards of some kind.  In a competition you cannot use anything but your skills and the dog's ability to carry out what you have taught him, which proves that any dog can be trained reliably with food ... when done properly.  This means that they learn the behaviors and understand them, and will perform them regardless of the presence of food.

Please note: This isn't a black and white, "these are the only reasons dogs will only work when food is around" list.  There can be many other reasons why dogs will seemingly only work for food.  I've just listed some of the most prominent reasons, in my opinion. 

Let's discuss reasons why dogs will work for food but will not if food is not present.

1) Luring without properly fading the lure.
2) Bribing.
3) It's the only reward ever presented.
4) Training wasn't carried out properly.

1) OVER-LURING.  I see this often because luring when training works.  I use luring myself.  However, you have to know when to fade the lure and how to do it properly. It's simple, really, it just has to be done pretty quickly and the behavior you are wanting to achieve needs to be put on stimulus control.  In simple terms, "stimulus control" means that the dog knows the behavior and will reliably perform it on cue.  So if you ask your dog to lie down he'll do so, within a second or two, and won't do another behavior instead.  Some dogs will sit when asked to lie down or will lie down when asked to sit. This means the dog doesn't really know the cue and it is not under stimulus control.  This happens when the verbal and/or hand signal is added to soon or is "taught" by repeating the cue over and over and over until the dog does it.  It can also happen if the dog is punished (a leash jerk, pushed into place or maybe even spoken to sternly or harshly) for not performing the cue before the dog reliably understands what is being asked of him.

We often lure to get simple behaviors as they are performed quickly and the dog can "get it" a bit faster with luring.  A good example is taking a treat and putting it slightly in front of the dog's nose then slowly bringing it down in front of him, down to the floor, as soon as the rump and elbows hit the floor we praise and give the treat/lure to the dog.  This is one way to lure a dog into a "lie down"  position.  However, the problem is that many people don't then put the "down" on cue at the appropriate time and get it under stimulus control; then the dog needs to be lured down, usually by the person going all they way to the floor and touching the floor in order to lie down.  No one wants to have to always touch the floor to get their dog to lie down, at least I don't!

Here is an excellent couple of videos on how to fade a lure when training. First from the wonderful Emily Larlham.  Lots of great videos of hers found here.

And another, from great trainer Pamela Marxsen, more of her videos here.

(2) BRIBING. I know that people who bribe their dogs don't mean to do this but this can cause any dog to only do things for food.  After all, it's bribery and without the bribe the behavior will stop.   Probably the best example is when a dog won't come to you and someone runs to get the treat bag (or other object that the dog will respond to, dangling hot dog, whatever...) and dangles it while asking the dog to do something.  "Fido! I've got a treeeeeeattttt!!!  Want a treat?!!!"  All while shaking the bag, rustling it around.  The dog usually comes running.  I actually don't mind this if you are totally desperate and this could save your dog's life. Example: Your dog doesn't have a reliable recall and has darted onto your busy street and you need the dog to come in immediately for safety reasons.  If the only way your dog will come to you at this point (eh hem, after this train, train, train!) then by all means bribe the dog!! But after this get on some training, now!

However any other time my initial reaction would be to tell you that you need to train your dog to a higher level of reliability, and learn to do it properly.  If you have to bribe your dog to do something your dog simply has not learned the behavior reliably, plain and simple.  Any dog that is reliably trained doesn't need bribing.

(3) REQUESTING THINGS ONLY WHEN YOU DO HAVE FOOD.  This is somewhat along the lines of bribing, really.  But it could be that you aren't necessarily using bribery to get your dog to do something. It could simply be that you only ask your dog to, for example, sit when he's getting fed.  So your dog will reliably sit for his dinner but won't necessarily do it at any other time.  So you will begin to think that your dog will only sit because dinner is present.  The truth is that your dog hasn't been taught to do sit (or any other behavior perhaps) in other situations.  You haven't offered up "Life Rewards" so that your dog  begins to offer behaviors for other things aside from when food is present.
Life Rewards are a critical part of weaning a dog off of food.  Your dog should always be praised and rewarded.  However, a reward does  not always have to be food.  Using these types of "rewards" are great for impulse control as well.  For example, your dog loves to play ball.  Then he must sit in order for you to toss the ball for him.  He cannot jump up and grab the ball from your hand or plow you over in order to get the ball.  If you have a ball (or any toy for that matter) you should ask your dog to sit (given that your dog does know this cue) and wait for it.  As soon as his rump hits the ground--"Good  boy!" and toss that ball!  He'll love it!

So what are Life Rewards?  It is anything that your dog sees as rewarding.  This will depend on the dog but they can be things such as: going for a walk, opening the door to go out, playing, tug, attention/petting ...  These must be rewarding to your dog.  Just because you enjoy petting your dog does not mean your dog finds it so rewarding that he will perform several cues just to get a rub behind the ears.  However, some dogs will live for a rub behind the ears!  So, just find what is rewarding for your dog, and sometimes it depends on the exact moment.  If your dog really wants to go outside to chase a squirrel up a tree he would probably sit  upon request in order for you to reward him by letting him go outside.  If the squirrel wasn't there he may not be as motivated by going outside.  Get it?

Here is a great read on Life Rewards and training without food, click here.

(4) TRAINING GONE WRONG. And a big part of  a dog not working for you without a bribe or obvious "reason", eh hem, food  ... is that you simply haven't trained your dog reliably enough.  Just because you can lure your dog five times over the head with a treat and he sits doesn't mean that now he actually knows the "sit" cue. 

For dogs to understand and be reliable with a cue (any cue at all) you have to practice it many times in one location, then move to another, then another.  Be sure to put it on stimulus control and have it this way in many different locations and environments.

Dogs are often so poor at generalizing that you have to realize that just because he knows "sit" in the bathroom doesn't mean he'll do it in the living room!  And if he only does it in the bathroom but not the living room then definitely do not expect him to do it on the front porch with added and new distractions!  You must train in different non-distracting environments and then add new environments with a few distractions, gradually increasing the degree/amount of distractions.  And then move to different places outside and inside and all over town!  Always use a high value reward when changing the environment and adding distractions until the behavior is on stimulus control and is reliable in that environment.  

Here is a great video on raising criteria by Pamela Marxsen:

IN CONCLUSION there are many reasons why a dog will seemingly "only work for food" when the simplest reason is that the training has not been done properly, consistently and/or reliably.   Training a dog the right way doesn't just happen in the blink of an eye. Our canine partners are smart critters but they do need repetition, practice, praise and consistency in order to do what we want when we ask and be reliable with it.  There are no magic answers, tools or quick fixes.  You just have to train the right way and keep on truckin'!  And here is a great read on how to phase out food altogether during training, click here.

To read Part II of this post, "So, how long do I need to use food [when training]?" click here.

Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior 
servicing Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Changes are a-foot ...

Stacy's dogs: Noah, Jake, Trevor & Amos
(Sadly Jake & Amos passed away.)
I think many of you are already aware, but if you aren't ... I'm Stacy Greer, owner and head trainer/behavior therapist at Adventures in Canine Training, Inc. based in the Dallas/Ft Worth Texas area. I provide dog training and behavior services to dog owners locally.  From potty training issues to aggression, I cover a wide variety of issues, depending on what the dog owner needs and/or wants.

Ok. Sorry for those of you who are regular readers and you know this info but wanted to welcome new readers!  I currently have 2 dogs of my own and a 4 year old daughter.  The newest news is that I'm pregnant with twins, two girls, and we are expecting them to arrive in March 2013.  Sadly this pregnancy has been a bit more difficult than the one with my daughter so I'll be taking leave starting December 1st, which is really in just a few weeks!

I'm referring all clients to some great local trainers that I know so if you need help please contact me so that I can refer to you a qualified and wonderful trainer that can help you!  I'm unsure when I'll return but hopefully by May 1, 2013.

Please feel free to stay updated on the blog as I plan to post more tips, training, etc. as I'm on leave.  You can subscribe by putting your email in the box to the right where it says, "Get emailed when I post new stuff!".  You'll need to be sure to confirm your email address after you enter it. So check your email's inbox and spam box (just in case) for a confirmation email or it won't work.  Thanks and feel free to scroll thru the archives and read all the past articles and posts I've written!

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