By Debi Ford, VSA-CT, IAABC Shelter Affiliate, FDM
Humane Society for Greater Nashua
I use food to train dogs. I use a lot of it, especially when training a new behavior. I often get asked, “So when do you eliminate the food?” The answer is never.
Why? Because it is a huge motivator for dogs! It gets you to desired behavior quickly and builds the relationship between dog and handler. It encourages learning, helps with emotional regulation, and just plain can feels good for most dogs. Each dog comes with their own unique personality, regardless of what his genetics or breeding may predict. That is why working with dogs is so amazing. Like people it always comes down to the individual: the study of one.
Food is powerful. It is powerful for dogs and it is powerful for people. We celebrate holidays around food. We meet friends for dinner, breakfast or lunch. We celebrate sports events with food. We have entire television channels devoted to food. We have books, blogs, and social media posts revolving around a great meal. Seriously how many pics of someone’s dinner have you seen on social media? Have you ever gone to a wedding or even a funeral where there was no food? We bond over food; we cry over food; we celebrate over food. We “eat our feelings” as the saying goes. Food often is equated with love for people. For example, cooking a great meal for someone you care about. In other words, food for us is also very much an experience! We can do that for our dogs as well.
How, you may ask, can you create a food experience for your dog? You can toss food, roll food, hand to mouth, drop food, scatter feed, hide for seeking, put in a snuffle mat or licky mat, or feed in a puzzle or Kong. There are a million ways to be creative with this depending on your dog’s preferences. Just have fun and experiment to find out what really lights your dog up! You can use a portion or all of your dog’s daily food allowance (so weight gain is not an issue). You can also select a variety of the things your dog loves so it is not the same-old.
Rewarding animals with food for doing behavior we want to see is powerful. It is letting that animal know I love this and would like to see more of it. You are paying them for a job well done in a currency that fills their trust bank account. In the end, that is the goal; to build trust and understanding between two beings that speak different languages.
Debi works with our shelter dogs to help them be their best selves and to prepare them for their new lives at home. She also offers training classes to the public (group or one-on-one) for both puppies and adult dogs.
Learn more at: https://www.hsfn.org/animal-service