Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What’s better, treats or toys?

If you offered your dog a tennis ball in one hand and a treat in the other, which one would he choose?
Answer that question, and then think about how the answer affects training.
If your dog would rather have the treat, then use food to train him.
But if he’d rather have the ball, use toys for training.
Dogs have two major drives — prey and food.
In the wild, these were one and the same. But for domestic dogs, they’re different.
There’s no chasing down and catching a food bowl. However, the prey drive is still quite a big part of many dogs.
Realizing what motivates your dog more — their food drive or their prey drive — is a big step is finding the best way to train your dog.
Most dogs are like Sensi. He’s very motivated by food, and also pretty motivated by his prey drive. For the most part, I use treats to train him. Every once in a while, I’ll use a toy as a reward. It doesn’t really matter.
Even more dogs are incredibly food motivated. Golden Retrievers are notorious for it.
But every once in a while, you come across a dog who just can’t get his mind off that squirrel in the backyard.
This is the dog who carries a ball in his mouth at all times. He lives for games of fetch. Birds catch his eye and drive him nuts.
Brent’s former roommate brought home the first dog of this sort that I’d ever met.
The dog has literally dropped treats right out of his mouth when my hand touched his favorite ball. At Christmas, I got him some pig ears and toys. The pig ears — unbelievably irresistible to most dogs — laid untouched on the floor while the dog ran circles with his new toys.
His owner immediately set out to train him some tricks. He used treats, and it worked, but only on one condition — he and the dog had to be in a room with no toys or the dog would pick up a toy and simply lose interest in the training games.
These dogs can be very difficult to train with regard to recalls and commands like drop-it.
The easiest way to teach such a prey driven dog a solid drop-it command? Games of fetch with two or more tennis balls.
Simply throw one ball, and after the dog gets it — whether he returns to you or goes running in circles with his ball — show him you have another.
He’ll return, and usually, will drop the ball in his mouth while he waits for you to throw the other.
Once he’s off chasing the other ball, pick up the one he dropped, and repeat, repeat, repeat.

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