A blog about dog training and dog breeding…and other sundry matters

Posts tagged ‘Positive dog training’

The Best Treats to Use for Positive Dog Training

The choice of treats are definitely very important in the world of clicker training.  First and foremost, the treats must be something that the dog really likes.  Secondly, the treats should be small, pea-size or slightly bigger for a large-breed dog and smaller for a small/toy breed.

I have found when training rottweilers and german shepherds that if the treats are too small, the dogs invariably choke on them.  If they are too large, you simply run out of treats before you are really finished training.  I tend to treat generously and often, so that is a big issue for me.

When training toy breeds, like pomeranians, if the treats are too large, the dogs will fill up quickly and you will have to either find an alternative to food as a reward, or quit training for that session.  I have never had this issue with my large dogs, so I can’t swear that it won’t happen to larger breeds.

Treats should be smelly and soft.  If they are smelly, they will be palatable to the dog; if they are soft, the dog will be able to eat the treat quickly and not disrupt the training session.  I store my treats in a zip-lock bag to seal in moisture and stuff it in my treat bag (which is nothing more than an insulated lunch sack for humans which I clip to my belt when I train).  When I’m finished training, depending on the treats, I store the zip-lock bag with any remaining treats in the refrigerator.

Because my dogs tire of eating the same treats over a long period of time, I tend to add variety.  So for several days or even weeks I’ll train using bits of cheese, then I’ll switch to bits of sausage, then pieces of boiled liver.  I have found sausage (hotdog) to be very messy as the links invariably retain lots of moisture, especially if you thaw them then serve.

Unlike many trainers, I do not mix treats within a training session.  It’s just too much work and gets cumbersome to manage during sessions.  Timing is important in clicker training, so you don’t want to be fumbling with getting the treats out of the pouch, especially when training an inexperienced or young dog.

Of late I’ve been using commercial treats for variety, especially for Athena, who is not a food oriented dog.  One of the treats, Scoops made by Seargent, is supposedly made with real cream.  It is a soft treat and breaks into small pieces very easily and are not nearly as messy as sausage.  I just started using Beggin’ Strips, too.  I like these treats because they are the least messy of all.  I can push a few strips in my pockets and not worry about messes.  Although they break up quite easily.  I have found that the dog needs some time to chew the treat during training, and depending on the size of the dog, if the treat is too small, the dog has a hard time chewing it.

Bottom line is, choose food that your dog truly enjoys.  The reward must be of a high value to the dog.  If the food isn’t something that the dog particularly relishes, then the very act of offering a treat becomes an aversive.


Some Tips on Training Young Puppies

Patience, Patience, and more Patience.  That is the most essential skill that you need.  It has been a while since I last trained a puppy, two years to be exact, and my youngest pup was seven weeks old when I got her at that time.

I introduced my last litter to the clicker when they were  five weeks old.  For the next week-and-a-half their training sessions consisted of charging the clicker; that is, I clicked the puppies and delivered a yummy treat to their tiny mouths.  They didn’t have to do anything in particular.  The object of the exercise was to get them to associate the click with something good, ie food.

At about six-and-a-half weeks I began shaping behaviors, and that’s where I needed the most patience.  At that age the puppies had the attention span of a gnat, and could not focus on anything for too long.  They would offer me a sit, and I would click and treat them, then they would wonder off to explore.  That is perfectly normal.  I had to keep lessons very short, literally seconds, and they had to be frequent, and fun, fun, fun.

I found that in shaping behaviors I had to be very quick and observant, if not, I’d miss a lot of clickable behaviors.  Training puppies really teaches humans the power of timing.  Interesting while I awaited the arrival of this litter, I contemplated honing my clicker training skills with the help of a chicken.  Well, that didn’t happen, for many reasons.  Had I done it, it would have helped.

My timing with the clicker certainingly improved, but it’s still not at the level that I would like.  I find that I miss things, even when I train my adult dogs.  It’s exasperating, but like most skills, it will improve with practice… and patience!

If there are two things that I learned from training puppies between the ages of six and nine weeks it was 1)  Train in a small area that’s very boring to the puppy.  That way the puppy will choose to pay attention to its lessons (assuming that the reinforcer, ie the treats are really yummy to the puppy, and he’s not tired), and 2) deliver a very high rate of reinforcement.

Number two above is so very important, even when training adult dogs.  I think it was last Christmas that Karen Pryor wrote in her newsletter about the power of abundance.  Her message was simple:  reinforce your dog frequently for behaviors that you want with a lot of treats.  A general good rule of thumb is to deliver one click for a behavior followed by three treats.  Sometimes I do more.

What I found most helpful to get the puppies in “training mode” was to give a series of fast clicks followed by food as in click-food-click-food-click-food.  I did this as fast as the puppy could eat its treat, which meant that I had to make the treats very small to begin.

As the puppies got older and they became more clicker saavy, I found much of the above unnecessary; they had all grown up.  I no longer train in an isolated area, but in my living room.  They focus quite well, though I still keep their sessions short and intersperse it with a lot of play.  I no longer charge the clicker because they know what the clicker means.  I still deliver a high rate of reinforcement, though, because it pays off with both the puppies and the more seasoned dogs.

What to do if your doesn’t like treats

Okay, so I discovered that Tuvok, the puppy whom I thought would be my next CDX, is so not into treats.  His sister, Gretchen, whom I decided to keep back from my litter, at least for now, shows a lot more potential and will take treats.  I have tried bits of kidney, cheese, and yesterday went out and bought very expensive semi-moist treats from the store. 

Tuvok was mildly interested in the treats.  I broke them up really small and got him to eat a few pieces, then I discovered something really important:  he is more interested in sniffing and exploring than taking treats or even looking at me.

The puppy spends most of his time in his kennel outdoors with his two siblings or in the indoor pen.  They have toys, etc, but the big yonder beyond these places intrigue him to no end.  Also, he loves a game of tug.

He’s still a tiny babe with a real need to take in life outside of the kennel with all the sights, sounds, and wonderful aroma of poop.  I must not deprive him of that opportunity now because I’ll be fighting him for his attention for the rest of his life, and that’s the last thing I want to do with a working dog.

So I have decided to ditch the clicker and treats for now (very hard for me because the clicker has almost become an appendage to my body!), and just let the puppy have free, unstructured time with me.  He is tied to me when I’m in the house and can watch him because I’m housebreaking him and he’s doing well with that, and I give a lot of verbal praise and pats.

Once he gets “bored” with just sitting around, he may want to accept treats and work for them

Puppy Chronicles–Day 6

Turbo Puppy

Turbo Puppy doing an Early Neurological Stimulation exercise–holding the puppy upright.


For the first time today I got accurate readings on the puppies’ weights.  It’s always been a struggle keeping the little squirmers in the basket on the scale.  The needle keeps jumping up and down and only stops when they settle briefly with a body part, usually their heads, hanging over the side.  I’m using a kitchen scale that’s been used to measure sugar and flour since before I was born!

It’s incredibly hot, and I worry about the puppies.  I think they will be more comfortable in the kennels outside:  those are concrete and cooler.  My bedroom is way too hot, even with the fans going.  We tried taking pictures of them today, but they were just so miserable.  Once their eyes open and their are mobile, I’ll move them to the kennels during the day so they’ll stay cool.

I noticed today that The Screamer’s ears are beginning to flop down while her siblings retain the tiny baby vulcan-like ears that they had at birth.  I know at some point the ears will stand up like a regular German Shepherd’s.

Early Stimulation exerciseGetting ready to invert Turbo Puppy–another of the Early Neurological Stimulation.  In this exercise the puppy is grasped firmly with both hands and held upside down.  Don’t worry, they are very well supported and held in that position for no more than three-five seconds.

Being a Successful Clicker Trainer–Tip 10

Use treats for training new behaviors, and toys/games for motivation after the behavior is learned.  Using treats in the initial stages of teaching a behavior allows for the learning process to progress without breaking the dog’s concentration, and it is faster.  Bring out the toy when you’re training for latency or to provide further motivation.

Being a Successful Clicker Trainer–Tip 9

Break behaviors down into small components.  This is especially true if you are shaping a behavior, which is actually a very powerful way to train.  If you are training a “down,” for instance, and the dog is not readily offering you one, you may click the individual movements that make up the “down.” So at first you’d maybe click and treat the dog’s head moving downwards first.  Then after the dog readily offers you the lowered head, the next thing he’d most likely do is extend a paw.  Click and treat that.  Before long you will be clicking and treating both elbows on the ground.

Being a Successful Clicker Trainer-Tip 8

Train when your dog is hungry.  The best time to train is just before his dinner time.  You can use part of the dog’s dinner as his reward, if he really enjoys his food, or you can use something that the dog doesn’t usually get to eat.  The treat should be something that the dog really enjoys.

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