This month I’d like to talk about a reinforcer that will motivate your dog to work for you: TREATS! A high-value treat can make training sessions fun, and help dogs who are distracted, stressed, or have no training, cooperate and work for you. Treats are not a life sentence for training, but timely rewards with treats will help inspire your dog to focus and learn new behaviors. There are hundreds of different kinds of training treats you can buy, but I like to make my own dog treats. That way I know the ingredients, and it’s also much less expensive than buying treats (important when you are working with your dogs every day). Some of the easiest, and most desirable treats, are (center cut) pork chops, (plain) breakfast sausage, and chicken livers. I will cut the fat off first, cook them in the microwave, then put them in the fridge and let them cool before trying to cut them up. If the meat is still hot when you cut it - it will crumble and you’ll have little bits of treat all over the floor (and your dog will be looking at and sniffing the floor more than looking at you). So chill the meat before cutting it, use a very sharp non-serrated knife, and you’ll have nice little squares of happiness that your dog will love. A quick and easy treat is cheese. I buy cheese in blocks – much cheaper and easier to cut into little cubes, the size of M&Ms. Each dog seems to have his or her own favorite cheese, but I always get Gouda cheese for Reggie, because I like to say he’s a Gouda Boy. The softer cheeses like Mozzarella are sometimes harder to cut into cubes because the cheese sticks to the knife. If you think your dog might have a sensitive tummy, chicken breast is always the best choice. Still very tasty, and easier on the digestive system than pork, sausage, or cheese. I buy the thin sliced chicken breast, which is a little more expensive, but so much easier to cut after it’s cooked. Remember to cut training treats very small, so your dogs don’t get filled up before the training session is finished. A taste will make them want more. Serve two or three different kinds of treats if you have a longer session. You'll train no more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time at home, but sometimes a private lesson or a group class can be an hour, and the variety helps keep your dog’s attention. Also, tossing the treats to reward after a sit or a down can keep your dogs interested, and help them to reset. Treats are as much fun to chase as they are to eat!
If you’re truly a chef at heart, you can click and watch this episode of The Macro Magic Cooking Show, where Reggie and I whip up our famous Sweet and Fishy Sardine Treats! You’ll laugh and maybe learn a new skill! These tasty sardine delights can be cut into biscuits or smaller training treats. They are doggy-licious!