Cookie Confidential - The Itty, Bitty Secrets of Dog Training
If you have a dog, you know all about the power of reinforcement. At feeding time, you probably ask your dog to sit before feeding him, then, the reinforcement comes as a reward for the behavior of sitting. When you go for a walk, you probably ask your dog to sit before exiting the house, or before getting leashed up, reinforcement is the driving factor here, and it comes in the form of access to the great outdoors and engagement with you.
Reinforcement is happening all the time for our dogs, and it's the reason why they work for us. If you're wondering what you can do to get your dog to work harder for you, or to stay more engaged on walks, the power is in the cookies.
Cookies is a term we dog trainers throw around to make treats sound less of a bribe and more of a reward for the work, so here are our dirty little secrets about utilizing treats to get your dog motivated to work for you and stay engaged with you for longer periods of time during distracting walks and training sessions.
First, training treats should be small and moist. Anything that crumbles should be off the table entirely, otherwise your dog will get distracted hunting for the tiny tidbits that fall on the ground. The highest value dog training treats come directly from a meat source, my all-time favorite treats are by FreshPet and you can find a store closest to you right here Where to Buy Freshpet Dog Food, Cat Food, and Pet Treats | Freshpet. Other direct-meat sources of dog training treats are chicken (my personal favorite I shop for from Kroger, in Waynesboro, VA by Simple Truth Organic® Thin Sliced Chicken Breasts, 32 oz - Kroger), and Kroger's Ground Beef (Kroger® 80% Lean Ground Beef Chuck, 3 lb - Kroger). All of these will be sure to get your dog working intently for you.
The second most important tip to utilizing cookies for dog training properly is to vary your reinforcement, you can do this by purchasing different types of FreshPet Dog Treats, or by simply preparing both chicken and beef and making sure you have both types readily available in your training pouch (my personal favorite here - Amazon.com: DoggyDobby Dog Training Treat Pouch Magnetic Closure for Quick-Reward, Fits Large Phones, Poop Bag Dispenser & Long Waist Belt, Pet Walking Fanny Pack for Carrying Kibble Food, Snack, Small Toys : Pet Supplies). This specific training pouch has multiple pouches so it's easy to keep your treats separated and easily accessible.
Now that you know what high value is, the next step is understanding when to use medium-value reinforcement. These dog training treats you are probably already familiar with as you see them frequently at the grocery store and pet stores. My go-to favorite right now is a newer product that recently hit the shelves at Kroger Downtown Waynesboro Grocery Pickup Waynesboro, VA | 245 Arch Ave, by Full Moon® Free Range Beef Recipe Savory Sticks for Dogs, 14 oz - Kroger. There are multiple recipes, such as Full Moon® Antibotic Free Chicken Recipe Savory Sticks for Dogs, 16 oz - Kroger, and Full Moon Natural Essentials Chicken Jerky Tenders Dog Treat, 16 oz - Kroger. All of them are a solid choice, and do not require refrigeration as the aforementioned options in the high-value reinforcement category do. These treats are a great option for really long hikes with your dog (unless it's cold enough you don't need to worry about food safety), require no preparation and are frequently on discount with Kroger Coupons.
Training at home, polishing up on behaviors your dog already knows, and switching types of reinforcement during training periods when your dog is under-performing, are all great times to utilize this simple, yet wholesome, dog treat. Other types of medium-value dog treats are Nudges® Real Chicken Jerky Cuts Dog Treats, 10 oz - Kroger, Search Products - Kroger, and Pup-Peroni® Original Beef Flavor Dog Snacks, 5.6 oz - Kroger.
Now that you have options for both high-value and medium value training treats, you can probably figure out what the lowest type of dog training treats is -- kibble. Your dog's dry food is still a method of reinforcement, and many of you probably give them this for free (beside a sit-stay or other simple behavior), but let's talk about some training options that low-value treat training is great for, which is relaxation training, mat training, and crate training. Hand feeding a puppy is a great tool to build stationary behaviors (such as mat training) and promote relaxation while crated. Another great little secret for utilizing dry food is to have your puppy eat its meals in its crate through dog toys as part of a training protocol to foster calmness and prevent boredom and separation anxiety. If you have multiple dogs, it's also a great option to prevent resource guarding, but that's another post for another day.
Now that you have a toolkit of cookies and have unlocked the secret of dog training utilizing food as reinforcement you are on your way to training with your dog to create a happy and healthy pup.