Food Reward Dog Training | Reward-Based Dog Training

Food Reward Dog Training

Food Reward Dog Training

We are big believers of food reward dog training in our program.   More often than not, it’s their kibble food, not treats. Though there is a place in training for high value food reward.     We’ll talk about that another time.

Food is a primary requirement to sustain life. It is also a great bonding & leadership connection between you and your dog. No healthy dog is going to go without food when food is offered, even if it means he has to overcome some mentally challenging obstacles to do so. So we use it with all dogs – happy go lucky, shy, or even bratty, stubborn, or aggressive dogs.

First we need food drive.   That just means a really hungry dog. A dog motivated to figure out how to get fed. And to do so, he needs to have a relationship with you.

Most dogs will do just about anything for food… especially if they are hungry.    Many dogs will start performing all sorts of behaviors to see if it will be the one that makes you release that yummy treat.   A dog’s sense of smell is extremely powerful.  So something that smells yummy will interest them.  Be aware yummy often stinks to us.

To make sure they are hungry when it’s time to learn something new, skip the meal prior to the training session.    It won’t hurt them — physically or emotionally.   In fact, it reinforces you control resources for a dominant dog, and helps every dog get focused on learning when you do offer the food.

My dog isn’t motivated by food:

(Not) Withholding Food:

You can actually build food motivation. We often withhold the evening meal of kibble to be sure the dog is hungry when it’s time to begin training.  If the dog is hungry, he’s more likely to be willing to work for his food.    We never (ever!) starve dogs to create changes in behavior.  In fact, we offer their daily meal(s) at scheduled feeding times every day — it’s up to the dog whether he eats or not.  He has a choice, but he also has consequences if he misbehaves.

Tethered Feeding (Resource Guarding & Human Aggressive Behavior):

If the dog is demonstrating aggression (growling, snapping, lunging, hovering over his food) and he’s willing to bite his people or other dogs over his food bowl, we have a different first step.

  1. We tether the dog to an immovable object and we stand about 1 foot beyond the distance of the leash with the food in hand.  If the dog growls, lunges, jumps, etc — the meal will end, whether he has had 1 kibble or most of the bowl.
  2. If he behaves himself, we begin feeding by dropping a kibble or two at our feet, just outside of range of the dog.   Standing fully upright, we then use our foot to nudge food towards the dog so he can eat it.  We are attempting to show the dog he needs us, and we’re on his side.   He can earn his entire meal this way for a few days.
  3. As we progress, we will start to offer food by hand with the dog still tethered… and eventually progress to off leash hand-feeding.
    1. Sit in a chair at an angle to your dog, with no hard direct eye contact and offer an extended hand of food
    2. We don’t like kneeling down or sitting on the floor as it may be difficult for you to move if needed.
  4. After a few meals of building a good hand-feeding relationship, I move to our working for food protocols.
  5. I can’t tell you how many days to spend on this protocol — it depends on the dog’s behavior during his meals, your confidence & your skills, and sometimes going with your gut.   Be safe and don’t take unnecessary risk.   Take your time & implement safety protocols as needed.

 

Hand Feeding:  (All Dogs)

One of our primary objectives in training is to build a relationship with the dog.   We set the stage that if they want to eat, they have to make friends with us first, and then earn their food through work. Moderately shy & nervous dogs, even some fear aggressive dogs, will often have a hard time approaching us for food.  That’s ok.  It’s present and we’ll give the dog a few minutes to make the effort, but at the end of 15 minutes the meal is over, and back in your crate you go, until the next scheduled meal.  No treats and snacks between. No feeling sorry for him.   He will eat when he’s hungry and establishes a bit of trust. More trust will come with each attempt he makes.

Once he starts taking food from your hand, it is important that you make no movement. Don’t sabotage his trust by trying to pet him, drawing him closer in by moving the food, etc.   If at any time during the hand-feeding the dog growls, jumps, etc his meal is over.   Period. You must be willing to walk away with the food. And Do It. The dog will watch us put the food away, and then be put back in his crate.   He will only come out for potty breaks as scheduled and scheduled feedings at this phase. No play, no affection, etc.  (Note this is not for the highly fearful, so anxious they cannot eat,  shut-down dogs until much later in their training – blog pending)

Once he takes food with confidence and no nonsense behaviors, move to Working for Food.

 Working for Food: (All Dogs)

Visit our Youtube Channel for a short demo on working or food

At this phase of feeding, we need the dog to start earning his kibble.  Not just get a free ride with a bowl of food.   In fact, there is no bowl.  We ask them to work, every day. to earn their meal.   It’s a great interaction with you for relationship building, and it’s much more mentally stimulating for him, than inhaling a bowl of food in 8 seconds.

If you been working with a shy or insecure dog, changing the equation on him may create a little setback.   Don’t adjust your work here…. Keep making forward progress with simply skillas like watch me, moving towards you, hand targets, etc.

For others, work the basic skills: Sit, Down, Come, Place, Watch Me, Leave-It,  Target/Here, etc.   Perform a task and get kibble.   Starting out its’ 1:1 — 1 task, 1 kibble. Every time.  And then we progress to Variable Rewards Delivery

One he has the basics mastered –start teaching him something new. The advancement of new skills keeps your dog happier and stronger mentally.  Go back to the 1:1 delivery for learning new skills until he has the skills mastered.  Then put that command on variable reward as well.

Pudgy Pooch?
Remember, we said skipping a meal is not going to hurt them.  So if you are using lots of food reward during training, be sure to cut down calories from their normal meal by skipping or at least giving a smaller portion.

You can also use their kibble for basic training reward, especially after they have learned a new skill.  Alternatively, as you advance your skills, you can cut up some chicken, hotdog or cheese, add some kibble to the treat pouch with that smelly treat and alternate the two rewards.  The kibble will be enhanced by the smell of the other treat reward and the special pieces can become part of the surprise reward we mentioned in our variable rewards article.

No Really — He’s Not Food Motivated At All:

We believe you can create food drive if you consistently make the effort and don’t give in. But if your dog really isn’t food motivated or perhaps just loves to play – you need to try toys.  But remember tossing a toy generally gets them up and moving and might not be the reward you want during obedience work or in a group class setting or at the vets office/school, etc.  (Service Dogs especially will not be permitted to get overly excited or chase/squeak a toy while its working)

Toys are great for teaching, reward for nose work, or tricks — but praise be your best option until you are ready to release the dog from a command.

Most dogs will do just about anything for food… especially if they are hungry.    Many dogs will start performing all sorts of behaviors to see if it will be the one that makes you release that yummy treat.   A dog’s sense of smell is extremely powerful.  So something that smells yummy will interest them.  Be aware yummy often stinks to us.

To make sure they are hungry when it’s time to learn something new, skip the meal prior to the training session.    It won’t hurt them — physically or emotionally.   In fact, it reinforces you control resources for a dominant dog, and helps every dog get focused on learning when you do offer the food.

Questions:   Post them on our FB page and we’ll help you out!  It may even lead us to a blog update

The K9 Coach Carolinas Dog Training
Experts in Behavior & Obedience
www.thek9-coach.com
980-399-8064

 

Author: The K9 Coach

The K9 Coach Carolinas Dog Training owned and operated by Dana Brigman, certified dog trainer. We specialize in aggression, fear, anxiety and dog behavior training. We are experts in dog obedience training.