March 2018

Building Value for the Treat&Train

It’s a busy time for me right now with a lot of traveling. I was in France last weekend teaching a seminar, and I’m in Ohio tight now. I love teaching at new places, but the traveling takes a lot of time. France was 14-15 hours each way and yesterday was 19 hours from my home to the hotel in Columbus. I had a couple of days at home this week. I used the first to mostly rest and Wednesday to catch up on things, like training my dogs! The dogs and I spent two hours in the dog training hall close to us and had a great time. Epic has to stay at home still, which is breaking my heart. He makes a lot of improvements and the surgeon was very happy with how he looked when we took the stitches out last week. He moves normally and is ready to start some rehab and longer walks on a leash.

I have been reluctant to try the Treat&Train (remote controlled treat dispenser) with Spy because I thought she’d think it was scary with the noise it makes. She’s also much more into toys than treats which makes it harder to overcome the noise. I use the Treat&Train sometimes for running contacts training and I think it would be a good choice for a dog like Spy who is very motion sensitive, so I decided to try it this week. We started in the house on Tuesday night. In the first session I put a high value treat in the bowl attached to the machine, restrained her and sent her to it. We have worked on sends to treats on the ground before, so she knew that. As soon as she ate the treat I gave a reward marker and moved the other way and let her chase a new treat (lower value) along the floor. For the second session I started by first checking her reaction to the machine when I trained Bud and had her in the other room with the door slightly open. She was fine, so I brought her into the training room and just gave her treats from my hand when it made noise. After a few repetitions of that I went back to the original set up with a high value treat in the bowl and restraining and sending, but this time adding the beep and noise of the machine before my “go” cue. She did great! Ending each repetition with her chasing me and a new treat the other way kept the session active and fun for her.

On Wednesday, I brought the machine to the training arena, where she usually is very excited and happy to work. I used the same setup, but had her chase a toy in my hand after eating the treats in the bowl. I want to build a lot of excitement for the machine even if she’s not that interested in food – especially not the dryer food that goes into the machine. I use a high value reward with lots of energy (chasing me to a tug toy) and classical conditioning to increase the value of the machine. There is also an element of operant conditioning where she learns that she has to engage with the food in the bowl in order to get to chase me. The session went well and she would go to the machine at other times (like when I was packing up and getting ready to leave) and look in the bowl. At this point I think she’s mostly enjoying the game and getting used to the machine. I don’t think she understands the beep and noise as a marker signal and a call to action (“get the food in the bowl!”) so that will be the next step before I can use it to train other things.

Here’s a very unedited – I didn’t intend to make it public – video of our second session on Wednesday

This weekend I’m teaching agility in Columbus, Ohio (at PosiDog, where I’ve been many times before). First session tomorrow is about Speed and Motivation for agility dogs. It’s a subject that I like and that I have a lot of experience with working with dogs like my cocker Shejpa and more recently Spy. It’s also a subject that I think a lot of handlers need to consider more. Agility needs to be fast and fun before you try to teach anything else. Some dogs just love agility right from the start, but most need good training to reach their potential.

If you want a more motivated dog in agility, our Foundation Class (for all sports) is a good start. I have also for the first time added an agility class to our online curriculum. Agility Handling Foundations Online will start on April 9th. This class will also help a lot with motivation and clarity (which leads to speed) for agility dogs at all levels.