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The Trainer's Favorite Treats

Let me start off by saying that the over simplified description of what I do as a dog trainer is feeding dogs skillfully to change their behavior. Secondly, if you don't want to use food to train your animal, I happily invite you to find the door, I am not the trainer for you.

The careful application, delivery and presentation of food is what I do 75% of my time as a trainer. I use food to influence movement, create conditioned responses to cues and stimuli in the animal's environment.

In order for food to be useful to me to train with it must satisfy a few criteria. The most important: The Learner must be motivated to obtain the food in the current environment. Here's the thing, you may have to teach this before you start.

Receiving and eating is a mechanical skill for the dog. Delivering food to the dog is a human skill. Doing so predictably in a way they accurately reinforces the target behavior is the end goal.

When I say ”received“ what I mean is… the journey the food takes from its starting location on the trainer to the mouth-hole part. Which then starts the “consume and digest” part of its journey.

[For a brief mental exercise in food delivery frustration, recall the first time you had to use chopsticks, or perhaps had to eat your meal with an unexpected utensil]

In order for me to have discrete control over the food for ease of delivery it is necessary for the food to be:

  • easily received, consumed, chewed and swallowed

  • easily transported and delivered (from treat pouch to dog)

  • easily sighted or located by smell (color contrast to background floor is helpful)

  • not so messy as to flake or drip in an unintended manner

  • able to be motivating in as many increments/repetitions as I will need for a training session.

Here's what I keep around in my dog van, by category. Smelly, Large, Easily Sighted on dark flooring.


Darker colored Treats:

High Value Foods - Breaking out the "Big Guns" for Big Feelings

If I use from this list, I have to get very clever and intentional about delivery. More on that later.

  • Rotisserie Chicken

  • Canned Cheese

  • Braunschweiger

  • Canned Meats

  • Canned Cat Food

  • Deli Meat

In general (with dogs) I want to set up my events so that I can have a rhythmic session with 85% success of desired responses, set up in a manner that's comfortable and fluid. There's a lot to unpack there in future posts, but you'll be more successful if you start using the things your dog likes. Cheers! See you in class.

Kathleen Kiefer, CPDT-KA

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