A year ago, and I was talking about Lara being a bit of a guardy monster when it came to eating her food, treats and chews. She used to be absolutely frantic for food and couldn’t take a treat gently, no matter how we tried. I put some of it down to the puppy food that she was on when I got her and her being #Hangry. She was so frantic that she couldn’t cope with a slow feeding bowl.
A year on, and she’s almost fully grown, although I#d like a little more weight on her (only a couple of Kilos), but her attitude to food has changed and she’s not as guardy now.
So what has changed? Well, she’s less hungry these days as the food she gets actually fills her up. She’s had more exposure to things like stuffed Kongs (and she’s had gradually tougher ones to empty), she’s had half her foo in a normal bowl and half in a slow feeder (so she can take the edge off her hunger before she tackles the slow feeder), she’s been scatter fed and has had lots of exposure to high value chews, so they aren’t quite so high value and more common place (which has dropped their value).
We stopped playing It’s Yer Choice food games with her as they were just so frustrating for her and she was getting worse not better. No point in continuing with something that is making behaviour worse, no matter how useful it has been with other dogs.
We adopted a system of using different marker cues for different rewards and different delivery systems, so that it was crystal clear which reward (food, toy) was coming and how it was going to be delivered to her (delivered to her, tossed, thrown for her to catch, already placed so that she drives to a static toy or bowl etc.).
This system has helped her enormously. Whereas before, I was struggling to get her to wait her turn when I was dishing treats out, she can now sit there and wait for her treat to arrive and not try to grab everyone else’s and, at long last, she can take a treat gently without taking my hand with it. Huge difference. Yes, she can still be a bit impulsive, but I finally feel that we now have the tools to develop her ability to calm down and self sooth, just a bit more work on stimulus control needed. It is certainly much easier to play toys games with Lara now.
Bit of a long ramble, but the take home advice is, if you are using a well know game and it isn’t working for your dog and is either not improving or making your dog’s behaviour worse, Stop using it, Re-evaluate what you are doing and Adapt/Adjust your training plan to suit YOUR dog.
Although our dogs do need to learn to cope with frustration, because they, like children, can’t always have what they want when they want it, what we don’t want to do is build frustration into their training. If we see frustration increasing, then we need to Stop, Re-evaluate and Adjust what we are doing as well as teaching the dog how to self-sooth/calm down. They don’t come ready programmed with knowing how to do this, we need to help them, just like we would do with a child.
Building frustration into your training, can result in your dog becoming over aroused (which is often mistaken for being driven or well motivated, which are totally different) and can lead to your dog barking, yipping, grabbing and ragging the lead (or your clothing), being unable to take food gently and certainly not being able to make clear headed decisions.
Learn what your dog is like normally (when it comes to taking a treat or playing with a toy), and lean to assess their arousal states in different situations, so that you can recognise when they are getting over aroused. Teach them a way of self soothing, so that you are able to calm them down when they get over aroused and teach them how to self-sooth. Your live and your dog’s ife will be so much easier and both of you will get less frustrated in training and every day life.
Ooops, wandered a bit a way from resource guarding behaviour to over arousal, although I hope this was a useful post.
If you want to learn more reward specific marker cues and calming techniques, then join us on either an EPIC workshop where I touch on these concepts or at our new Calming Concepts workshop