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Top 3 Mistakes People Make When Training With Food

1. Not rewarding enough

In training we call this the reinforcement rate. When a dog is first starting to learn new behaviors, we want to pay them highly and pay them well for anything they do right.

  • Feed your dog for attention or eye contact
  • If you are teaching a new behavior, like a spin, give your dog a treat for moving in the right direction even if the behavior isn’t completed yet.
  • Once they get a new behavior for the first time you can give them a jackpot with a few treats in a row.

2. Feeding things you don’t like

Dog’s are always learning. Anytime you give your dog food for something they are likely to repeat that behavior, so make sure you are only feeding your dog when they are doing things you want.

Ex. If you are teaching a dog to spin and they get confused and sit down instead, don’t feed them for the sit. Try again and reward them for starting to spin instead of putting their butt down.

3. Not changing the reinforcement rate:

While a dog is learning something new we want to feed them well and often, but once they know a behavior it is actually detrimental to feed them one treat for one behavior in a predictable pattern.
Try mixing up the reinforcement rate instead:

  • Sometimes they get a treat
  • Sometimes they don’t
  • When they do something really awesome they get a jackpot!

This will keep the training interesting for them and also start to prepare them to do behaviors without food rewards, which can really help with real world distractions.

*Bonus* Mistake 4 and trainer troubleshooting tips:

Trying to force it when your dog doesn’t care about the treat.
If your dog turns their head away when you try to entice them with treats or is generally not interested, repeatedly putting food in their face won’t change how they feel. Here are some different things you can try:

  • Use something of higher value (ex. Instead of using kibble, try using pieces of chicken breast or cheese, but make sure to rip them into very tiny pieces so they aren’t getting a ton of extra calories)
  • Go somewhere with lower distractions where your dog is really comfortable
  • Take a break from the training for a few minutes while your dog sniffs around and gets more comfortable. You can try again a few minutes later, if there is still no food drive I would save the training for later.

Happy training and if you need any assistance please reach out! We would love to help you with all of your training needs.

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