Most people when they work, work for salary, whether it’s money, room and board, or a promise of the candy store after homework. These are all rewards for behaviors accomplished. It is known that all living beings repeat behaviors that are reinforced. If we find the best reinforcement for our particular dog, it opens the window to develop behaviors that WE want from them. The work is performed with enthusiasm and joy. In the beginning of your work together, for most dogs, the best reinforcement is food. After a while, your working relationship can blossom into using many more reinforcing actions, including praise, walks, toys, games, scratches, some good old fashioned loving, and anything that your particular dog loves and will work for.
For now we’ll discuss food
Most kids like pizza, mac and cheese, chicken nuggets and ice cream. Some like these more than others, a few, not at all. It’s the same with dogs. Most like hot dogs, cheese, beef, chicken and anything that falls on the floor. You can get a general consensus among most dogs, BUT it’s an individual choice and it’s important to know what’s on your dog’s favorite list so you can know how to keep him/her motivated.
There are many treats out there. It can be very confusing. Things are changing. Finding good quality, healthy treats are as easy as going to your local pet store, vet, ordering from the internet, or getting them at your grocery store.
I’m not a vet and I don’t play one on TV, but I’ve been on the quality, healthy diet path with dogs for over twenty years.
Here’s what I know. First the “not so good”.
There are many treats with lots of grains and empty calories. They are loaded with sugars, preservatives, and a variety of additives. These are often the most advertised and therefore, the most popular. The products used in dog treats as inexpensive fillers are corn, wheat, and soy. If rice or barley are used, it’s a little better, just make sure they are not the first ingredient. Many studies are now finding that those “empty calories” are not necessary for dogs. They can be the cause of allergies and add to the problem of canine overweight issues. They don’t add to the quality of the dog’s intake.
Now, the “better”.
On the other side, there are great protein-based treats that are also low calorie. The healthy ones are often better tasting and they are price compatible with other treats. There is no reason to give treats that have worthless calories when there are so many healthy treats out there. Look for a protein as the main or only ingredient. When I buy treats, I look for the least ingredients I can find. Organic treats are plentiful. Food rolls can be cut up and used as treats. There are small training treats that are 1 or 2 calories and I break them in half, sometimes even thirds. In training use the smallest size treat you can use. Try to avoid something too chewy which can take too much time during training. Something pea size is fine, it’s the quality they care about, not really the size. After a while the training session itself becomes the reinforcer.
You can also use foods found in your fridge. Hotdogs, cheese, leftover unseasoned meat or chicken (NO BONES), canned chicken or sausages, fruits and veggies.
As with all foods, MODERATION is the key. Not too much of any one thing, especially when first starting off.
DO NOT FEED DOGS
RAISINS …. GRAPES…… ONIONS ……GARLIC
Watch for food sensitivities and allergies, and be alert to changes in elimination habits.
If you start your dog on a positive reinforcement program using treats, cut back the amount of food at meal time. If you give 20 pieces of kibble for treats during the day, take 20 pieces out at dinner time. You can use your dog’s food as treats during the day.
Don’t overfeed. Your dog will almost always let you. Make good choices for your dog’s nutritional choice. You’re the only one he has.
Look for Part Two, “Treats: Moderation, Variety and The Hot Dog Story”.