ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Food On or Off the Body? Yes!

> This is something I've been pondering for a while. Many trainers say don't have food on you. Many also say to click often, every 5 seconds or less. How can you do both at the same time? If you keep the food on you while initially training a behavior, at what point does it leave your body?

Dogs do not become dependent on food... trainers do! And this has more meaning than using a variety of rewards besides food, although that is important to remember as well -- reward variety. Toys, life rewards, etc. should be used from the beginning in one's training.

Now to the food. When does one get it off their body ...never. When does one have food on their body? ....never. WHAT am I talking about now?!! Food is sometimes on your body and food is sometimes off of your body. The key is teaching the dog that just because I have food on my person that does not mean you can have any and just because I do not smell like food that does not mean I can't produce some for you. I.E. shun predictability and rituals!!

What are these rituals? They are other "cues" that training is about to take place and/or, more importantly, food is available now. You can teach the dog to only appear when food is available -- after all, that is how you have trained him. He needs his "extra cues" to get started.

If your training ritual is...

1. get the clicker and hang it around my neck,

2. get the baggie from the fridge and/or tie on the bait bag,

...and that is how you train, every time you train, you have a REAL problem. Why?! Because it is very likely the only time your dog may respond is AFTER the ritual of retreiving clicker and food begins. So vary your picture for the dog. Train with food on your person sometimes, with food off of your person other times. With the clicker, if that is a cue for a training session and, dare I say it, without the clicker at other times. Food or clickers do not indicate that this is a time you can earn rewards and their absence indicates that you cannot. Training this way is IMO much easier than having 647 clickers stashed all over the house/car and yard along with food on every shelf and in every closet. <grin>

Another common error in using any form of positive reinforcement is using it as an interruption to undesirable behavior. Never interrupt undesirable behavior with positive reinforcement. Never interrupt undesirable behavior with positive reinforcement. YES, I am aware I repeated that statement. It's critical to remember the above.

I see many trainers/handlers jumping through all of the proverbial hoops rather than having their dogs do the jumping. Let me paint a scenario for you...

Scruffy and handler are in training class. Scruffy is looking off at another dog. "Scruffy, Scruffy, Scruffy..." Scruffy is nonresponsive. Handler THEN opens the bait pouch...Scruffy gets big wiff of the salami as he is looking at Sparky. Turns around. Cool I have his attention back again. C/T here's your salami. Soon Scruffy wanders looking over the room again..."Scruffy, Scruffy, Scruffy" Hmmmm?! Open bait bag whifs of salami...maybe exclaim something like "Scruffy Mommy has treats" and Scruffy turns around. Cool I have his attention again C/T. Scruffy's mind wanders "Scruffy, Scruffy, Scruffy..." open bait bag, shake treats, hmmm?! Put them right under his nose then or worse yet shake the plastic bag right in front of his face. He C/T. Or he is still not looking Hmmm?! Let me go over to my duffle bag I think I had some liverwurst in it and he really likes that often it's even better than salami. The latter is a really slippery slope very often before you know it you have a dog that only works for "freeze dried columbian alpaca livers". I am NOT kidding - I see it over and over again in the "non-food-motivated dog".

Who is training whom?!! Never interrupt undesirable behavior with positive reinforcement...never interrupt...

You can have a clicker in your can have the food on a chair or on your waist and still use food as a bribe AND I do not define a bribe as waving food at the dog as a lure. You are using food as a bribe everytime you interrupt undesirable behavior (let's define that "naughty stuff" just for the sake of this example as... sniffing the floor, wandering away, barking...complete non- attention or animation/disinterest in you) with food. Everytime you reach in a bait bag, or open one, or get the treat into position ...or go to the duffle bag or fridge for better stuff...or decide well maybe I should go get my clicker. I.E. anything you do to move closer to food (reward) when your dog is non responsive is rewarding a non responsive dog.

Think about it...once you become aware of what you may/may not be doing it will help one's training tremendously. We have so many little habits and rituals that we may not even be aware of that indicate to your dog 1. food is available now, 2. food in not available now.

And...dogs are extremely clever. Make sure they are not training you to become more interesting the more bored, unresponsive, or inattentive they behave. Well actually you have trained them to be that way but they are still extremely clever animals <grin>.

Janet A. Smith
copyright 2001 Janet Smith


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