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Tag: high value treats

My Dog Isn’t Food Motivated…Or Is She?

My Dog Isn’t Food Motivated…Or Is She?

Lab and bowl

Anyone who has taught a group training class, anyone who has given behavioral consults, and everyone who has spent any time on dog training discussion groups has probably heard this lament more than once:

“My dog is just not food motivated.”

The glib retort to that is, “Sure she is, or she’d be dead.” Continue reading “My Dog Isn’t Food Motivated…Or Is She?”

Flavors: Ideas for Ultra High Value Treats

Flavors: Ideas for Ultra High Value Treats

A plate of spaghetti with a red colored meat sauce and a pile of grated cheese on top
Spaghetti Bolognese as a training treat? Is that even possible? See below!

OK, I’m going to break the ultimate taboo here and talk about giving so-called “people food” to dogs. 1)Nutritionist Linda Case points out aptly in the comments that even the term “people food” is inaccurate and comprises a completely false dichotomy. I won’t use it anymore, even to make a point.

Most of us who do positive reinforcement training and counterconditioning are already accustomed to giving our dogs some pretty special, high value stuff at times. Tuna, ham, Gorgonzola cheese; most anything fragrant and full of calories has been tried at one time or another.

But these types of foods have something in common, and that is that most consist of one basic flavor.

A friend who doesn’t actually train her dogs, but gives them small amounts of interesting food out of love and as enrichment, caused me to notice how much dogs appear to enjoy complex odors and flavors.

My friend read a quote similar to this one about dogs’ olfactory powers: “We smell ‘vegetable soup,’ but a dog smells each individual ingredient.” 2)In the training community, this quote may have originated in a tracking book in 2010. It was picked up and used by the Canine Nosework folks as well. Author and scientist Alexandra Horowitz writes:

Dogs have more genes committed to coding olfactory cells, more cells, and more kinds of cells, able to detect more kinds of smells….their sense of smell may be millions of times more sensitive than ours.–Alexandra Horowitz, “Inside of a Dog,” 2010

My friend subsequently started making sure that her dogs regularly got–along with the smells–some tastes of safe, home cooked foods that were complex and seasoned. Just because she figured they would like it. She was right. They love it. She calls it “flavors” and all her dogs line up for their special tastes of interesting food, and look forward to a bite in their dinner bowls.  And note: her dogs can all proficiently suck up spaghetti à la “Lady and the Tramp.”

Smell vs. Taste

Even though they have those amazing noses, dogs have a lot fewer taste buds than we do. They probably can’t discriminate tastes nearly as well. But that’s no reason to limit their food to “simple” tastes like we often do, even when looking for high value treats. The smell of complex foods is likely rewarding in itself, and I find it hard to believe, after seeing what complex foods dogs often seem to like, that the smell doesn’t enrich the eating experience.

I remember one day at an agility practice when one of the people brought spice cookies for the humans. The dogs, with my Summer leading the way, went nuts over the odor of those cookies and when offered some bites gobbled them down like ambrosia. Summer has had cookies (intended for humans) before. Mostly simple things like vanilla wafers and shortbread.  The smells and tastes of butter, sugar, and vanilla are not unknown to her. But add in the clove and nutmeg and cinnamon in spice cookies and it was clearly a whole different experience.

Cautions

OK, before my suggestions, here are the cautions. Use common sense about foods that are toxic to dogs. Here is a list:  Foods That Are Hazardous to Dogs.

Also, be careful about foods with high fat content because of the risk of pancreatitis, plus of course all those calories. Highly processed foods full of sugar or white flour (see the fast food entries below) are probably best kept to small quantities as well. They can’t be any better for dogs than they are for us…. High salt items aren’t great either. And on the other hand beware of artificially sweetened foods, which may have Xylitol, extremely toxic to dogs (thanks to reader Jane for this reminder).

Finally, with regard to using these kinds of treats for counterconditioning: I generally avoid making suggestions about things that “work for some dogs.” It is tempting when working with fearful dogs to try every trendy thing that comes along, without buckling down to do the actual conditioning and training which has been shown to help. So I don’t usually say, “It can’t hurt to try.” It can hurt to spend time on things that aren’t likely to work. But I don’t believe widening the search for foods that our dogs love falls into that bucket. It’s part of the basics of training and conditioning to find something the dog goes crazy for.

Practicality

So OK, that plate of spaghetti looks great, and it’s not too onion-y, but how could one use something like that as a training treat?

Remember food tubes? If spaghetti with meat sauce turned my dog on like nothing else, I would be putting it in a blender and dishing it out with a food tube. But there are quite a few “people foods” that lend themselves more easily to training.

A pile of plain tortellini on a green plate.
Plain tortellini are popular with dogs and fairly  practical

Things You Can Cut Into Pieces

  • Cheese or meat tortellini or ravioli, boiled plain
  • Commercial or homemade meatballs
  • Meatloaf
  • Grilled cheese sandwich
  • Whole wheat waffle with cranberries (NOT raisins)
  • Fast food hamburger or cheeseburger with bun (hold the onion, mustard, and pickle). The buns are very soft–just rip off small bites with both meat and bread
  • Fast food breakfast sandwich
  • Pizza
  • Pumpkin or spice bread  (no chocolate chips)

Things to Blend and Put in a Food Tube 

Some of these may take some finesse with the food processor, especially those with  potatoes. They can get gluey. Most of these require the addition of some liquid.

  • Spaghetti with meat sauce
  • Barbecue meat
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Omelettes
  • Hash brown casserole
  • Lasagne
  • Many soups, stews, and casseroles

A Little More Common Sense

OK, before the healthy food posse comes after me, please note that I am not recommending that anyone change their dog’s diet to include these foods in quantity. Just a bite now and then for enrichment, for a very special training treat, or for counterconditioning. And I wanted to give the people who do lots of counterconditioning some ideas for things they may not have used yet.

Also, there are plenty of non-junky home cooked foods. The sky is the limit!

My Summer will do anything for any sort of bread or baked goods. What interesting things does your dog like?

A brown dog is exiting a set of weave poles, with her eyes on a piece of white bread that her handler is throwing ahead
Summer weaving for plain white bread (with the headless agility handler)

 Related Posts

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Photo Credits

Spaghetti image

By Manfred&Barbara Aulbach (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0 ) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html )], via Wikimedia Commons

Tortellini image

By cyclonebill (Tortellini med valnøddeolie og sort peber) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0 )], via Wikimedia Commons

© Eileen Anderson 2015                                                                                                                               eileenanddogs.com

Notes   [ + ]

1. Nutritionist Linda Case points out aptly in the comments that even the term “people food” is inaccurate and comprises a completely false dichotomy. I won’t use it anymore, even to make a point.
2. In the training community, this quote may have originated in a tracking book in 2010. It was picked up and used by the Canine Nosework folks as well.
The Secret to Filling a Food Tube

The Secret to Filling a Food Tube

Two Coghlan's food tubes used for dog training. They are clear plastic with black caps and a white clamp at the bottom. The one on the left has a white filling (Neufchatel cheese, milk, and peanut butter) and the one on the right has a brown filling: canned cat food.
Yummy goodness for dogs. Recipes below.

A food tube (aka squeeze tube) is a vehicle for delivering soft, tasty food straight into your dog’s mouth. Food tubes are great for general dog training when high value treats are needed.  They are also invaluable for doing desensitization/counterconditioning for dogs with fear issues.

There is a trick for using food tubes successfully, and just as with the non-crumbly treat recipe, I’m going to tell you right up front. I wish someone had told me, because the first time I ever tried a food tube, it didn’t work for us and I didn’t try it again for more than a year.

The secret to good use of a food tube is to get the filling just the right consistency. If it is too solid or dry, like ground up roasted white meat chicken without much moisture, it won’t extrude correctly. Likewise if it’s lumpy. If it’s too liquid-y, like chicken baby food or plain yogurt, it drips out when you are not trying to feed your dog and makes a mess.

So what you do is either buy something that is already the right consistency, or mix and match different filling types to achieve that in a do-it-yourself way.

The rest of the post covers what you can buy and what you can make, and has a few other tips for successful use.

The Easiest Way

Here is the very easiest way to use a food tube for successful high value treat delivery:

  1. Buy a couple of Coghlan’s squeeze tubes from REI or Amazon. (Trainer Randi Rossman recommends these tubes, which are similar but have a larger opening. The discussion in this blog is geared towards the Coghlan tubes since they are what I have used and can make recommendations about.)
  2. Go to a pet food or grocery store and buy a can of pureed style dog or cat food. Or for raw feeders, get finely ground meat.
  3. Put the lid on the tube, turn the tube upside down, and spoon the food in. If there is separate juice in the canned food, save it for something else.
  4. Squeeze the air out, fold over the bottom, and close with the included clamp.
  5. Take off the lid and offer a squirt to your dog when he does something right. You will become a god in his eyes. (And he’ll soon learn how to get the goodness efficiently into his mouth!)

Mixing It Yourself

Zani food tube
Zani loves the white meat chicken & baby food mixture

Again, it’s all about the consistency. In the series of pictures above: the “too thick” one was 8 oz of baked white meat chicken, chopped fine in a food processor. The “too thin” one was 2.5 oz of Gerber chicken baby food straight out of the jar. The Goldilocks version was simply those two things combined in that proportion.

So that gives you the idea. In most cases, if you use 3 – 4 parts of something thick cut with 1 part of something thinner, you’ll probably hit the sweet spot. Here are some suggestions to choose from. Be mindful of the fat content whenever you give your dog rich stuff. Some of these adapt very well to low fat though.

Thick Things 

Thin Things

  • Low salt broth
  • Yogurt
  • Apple sauce
  • Milk
  • Baby food
  • Pureed veggies (baby food or homemade)

Can Go Either Way

  • Peanut butter
  • Mashed sweet potatoes
  • Canned tripe (but every once in a while there is a piece of…something…that doesn’t want to go through the hole). That stuff is crack for dogs, though.
  • Canned pumpkin
  • Small curd cottage cheese

Thickeners

(These are things you can add to something that is too drippy. See Micha’s filling method below.)

  • Oat or rice flour
  • Guar gum
  • Tapioca flour

Tips

  • Test the mixture at the temperature at which you will be using it. Most will be softer at room temperature, more solid when refrigerated.
  • Test the consistency by taking off the lid and pointing the end down. If filling drips out without squeezing, it’s too thin.
  • Avoid canned foods that say “chunky,” “stew,” “homestyle,” or “flakes.”
  • If canned food is too moist, let it drain in a strainer–Randi Rossman.

Fillings

(Thank you to members of the Facebook Fearful Dogs Group for fillings suggestions and others throughout this post!)

  • Canned dog or cat food: pureed or mousse style. Examples: Wellness 95% canned food; Newman’s Own Organic Dog Food (Debbie Jacobs of Fearfuldogs.com says this one cuts nicely with canned pumpkin); Friskies pâté style canned cat food.
  • Honest Kitchen dehydrated dog food (rehydrated of course!).
  • Food tube heather edgar
    Heather’s dogs are crazy about this liverwurst!

    Heather Edgar of Caninesteins says: “The hands-down favourite of all of my dogs is liverwurst. If you wanted to dilute it down because it’s both high calorie and a bit thick, it could be pureed with a baby food veg or cooked pureed vegetables–the easiest is probably using jarred baby food sweet potato.” 

  • Alex Bliss starts with pureed baby food and adds chicken breast, a tin of sardines, or tuna. She says that low fat soft cheese is also very popular with her dogs as a base for other flavors.
  • You can use pure peanut butter at room temperature, but oh, the calories! You’d better have a big dog or a very special occasion!
  • Ground raw meat for the raw feeders!
  • Deb Manheim CPDT-KA, CDBC of Happy Tails Family Dog Training purees the special diet of one of her dogs: baked North Atlantic cod and rice congee with vegetables. If you home cook for your dog already, this could be a very straightforward solution.
  • Micha Michlewicz starts with a protein or fruit, perhaps some veggies, and then oat or rice flour as a binder. She too mentions that you can blend up your dog’s meals and make a paste for the tube.
  • Dr. Jenny LeMoine suggests boiled chicken breasts, thinned down with the broth, and some yogurt mixed in as an optional treat.
  • The tube on the left in the large photo at the top of the post has: 4 oz Neufchatel cheese, 1/2 oz peanut butter, and 1 oz skim milk. The one on the right has commercial cat food!
Crack for dogs.
Tripe: crack for dogs.

Other Tubes: Commercial or Do It Yourself

I really like the tubes like Coghlan’s with a screw top and clamp because they are so resistant to leaks and mess. I have used the same two tubes in agility for years and used them hard. I throw them ahead of my dogs and have never once had a leak or explosion. That being said, here are some alternatives. Readers, if you know of other tubes, let me know and I’ll add them.

  • GoToob+
  • Evriholder Dressing to Go
  • Used mustard or other condiment squeeze container. Denise Donnelly Zomisky has experimented with this: she says you need to play around with the texture of the filling.
  • A sandwich bag, sealed, with a lower corner cut off –suggested by a Fearful Dogs member
  • Re-used toothpaste tube–Anna Jane Grossman explains how in a Huffington Post article
  • Organic baby food in a pouch–a couple of people suggested this!
  • Here’s another food that’s already in a tube: Carly Loveless points out that in Norway you can buy flavored cream cheese in a tube. How cool is that? And bacon sounds like a nice flavor for a homemade version as well.

What do you put in your food tube?

Link to the silly movie for email subscribers.

Related Posts

The Secret to Quick, Non-Crumbly Homemade Dog Treats

How to Give Your Dog a Pill: Several Methods (including with a food tube)

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© Eileen Anderson 2014                                                                                                             eileenanddogs.com

There is Hope: One Trainer’s Journey from Liverwurst to Kibble

There is Hope: One Trainer’s Journey from Liverwurst to Kibble

Recently on a dog training Yahoo group, a trainer wrote about needing to use hot dogs and lunch meat to train her dog. She was dismayed that her dog wouldn’t work for kibble. She asked the group if she was going to have to be cutting up hot dogs forever.

There were about 20 responses, all with suggestions for other high value treats that might be less messy or less expensive.

But, but, but…..that wasn’t the question! It was a great question! Not the old, “Am I going to have to carry treats forever?” question. (To which the answer is “yes” for most of us.) And not, “What are some good treats I can try?” Rather, it was, “Am I going to have to carry high value treats forever?”

I have an answer to this from personal experience.

I don’t have to anymore!

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 8.56.53 PM
Summer practicing “Lazy Leash” on the front porch for kibble

Not all the time, anyway. And that’s a huge improvement.

I have written about the value of treats before on this blog. In “Ant-Sized Treats” I described the experience I had when I learned that my treats were too small and hence not high enough value. I want to reiterate that the point of that post is not to prescribe a certain size or value of treat, but to urge everyone to pay attention to their dog, observe what works and doesn’t, and ignore prescriptions such as “eraser sized” or “the size of your little fingernail.” Your dog might need them bigger, or could be fine with them even smaller. You just need to observe to find out. I don’t want you to waste as much time as I did because I followed somebody else’s prescription and stuck with it for a long, long time, thinking my dog was just a little hopeless.

That experience built in some habits for me of using high value treats. This did wonders for both Summer’s and Zani’s agility performance, and made both of them, and Clara when she arrived, really enjoy our training sessions at home.

I have read many times, and even passed on to others, the recommendation to let dogs work for part of their kibble. But ever since I upgraded my dogs’ performance from lackluster, I had unconsciously written off that option for us. Rewarded behavior continues, right? I mean my own behavior! I was reinforced by great performances from my dogs when I gave lots of high value stuff. Why would I change? So instead of using part of their kibble, I habitually used higher value stuff. I decreased their meals when necessary to avoid over feeding.

Then one day on the Training Levels list I read a post by Sue Ailsby about how she was using part of her puppy Syn’s meals every day to teach a certain behavior and how fast it was going. I don’t know what was different for me that day; why I finally considered it. But for some reason I found myself wondering if there was a behavior for which kibble would get a good performance from my dogs. I was rehabbing Summer’s sit stay at the time, and I decided trying kibble couldn’t hurt. I mean, it’s a STAY, right? I loved the idea of not having to cut up treats Every. Single. Time. we trained.

I tried it and Summer stayed interested and motivated. I tried it on Zani. I tried it on Clara (who I had always figured, correctly, would work for about anything). Before I knew it  I was having daily training sessions with all three of them for part of one or both of their meals. Man, my treat life got easier!

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 8.57.11 PM
Zani staying away from food on the ground and keeping the leash lazy on the front porch for kibble

Hey folks, my dogs now work for kibble! With drive, motivation, and pizzazz! And I can prove it!

The following video shows Summer and Zani performing several of the Steps from Level 2 Lazy Leash from Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. We had already practiced these in every room of my house, on my back porch, and in the back yard, and in the front room with the door open. But the front porch was still a big leap. And it was quite exciting out there, with joggers, neighbor dogs in their front yards, and next door neighbors out and about.

(Link to embedded video for email subscribers)

You really need to read the other post to get what a big deal this is. Summer is (was!) a hard dog to motivate, and has some behavioral issues that make lots of things extra hard for her. She is hypervigilant and anxious about quite a few things. Zani has a very steady temperament, but is a mix of breeds that are infamous for their independence and, er, hobbies. (She’s probably beagle, dachshund, JRT.) She’s also extremely friendly, so human distractions are very potent for her as well, just for a different reason.

Summer and Zani both now work with me in almost any environment with great attention for much lower value treats. Classical conditioning, transfer of value: whatever you want to call it, it happened to us. (Susan Garrett calls it “Being the Cookie.”) Working and partnering with me is a major focus of both of their lives and a major source of fun.

I no longer have to carry around the liverwurst, baby food, and tuna omelette that it took to get us to this point. Kibble, Natural Balance roll, and the occasional goldfish cracker will do. They still get high value stuff too though; I want their lives and training to be fun and interesting.

The last thing I want to do is let training get humdrum and for their performance to slide down into disinterest. I am not taking this new state of affairs for granted! I usually use the high value treats for brand new behaviors, high distraction environments, and behaviors that take a lot of energy expenditure. (For instance, when Summer and I went to the Rally Obedience trial last week I had not a kibble on me. Performing there was devilishly hard for her. I had salmon dog food in a squeeze bottle, baby food, and Natural Balance roll.) But sometimes they get the special stuff just as a nice surprise.

Clara works happily for kibble as well. (Clara would probably work well for cardboard.) But I also made a video of her doing something very challenging, incredible, actually, for kibble.

(Link to embedded video for email subscribers)

I know there are plenty of others out there with dogs that are a challenge to motivate. Here is a ray of hope. If you are currently having to use salmon or gorgonzola cheese or some other exotic, expensive, or messy treat: Keep with it. Do whatever it takes to build value for the activity for your dog. I think it’s safe to say that the more you do, the more likely you may not have to  forever.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for:

 

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