ideas for motivators for a weight conscious dog

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Gen1
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ideas for motivators for a weight conscious dog

Post by Gen1 » Mon Mar 12, 2012 8:43 am

Hello everyone,
I was wondering if anyone has any suggestions for what I can use for clicker training for a weight conscious Lab (ok, he is not weight conscious but I am!)
I have a 5 year old male, neutered lab who puts on weight very easily.
I have had him for four years and have trained him to be easy to live with but not done any formal training with him before recently when I decided to teach him a few simple tricks so as to practice clicker training.
I started with spin, both ways, throw himself on his back when i say 'bang' and to bow. these four tricks have taken me about three weeks to get really good and I am really hooked on it now.
The problem I am having is that I have been measuring his daily food into an ice cream tub and using that for training with the odd bit of chicken/hot dog/meat as a bit of a jackpot reward. I have done away with the food bowl completely and what I don't get through in the days training he gets in a treat ball or a kong instead. I do two five minute training sessions a day for the tricks but I am using the clicker and chicken or something else tasty to work on the recall and to behave around other dogs when out (he is dog reactive) as obviously his normal kibble isn't going to cut it out on walks.
The trouble is that he doesnt always seem overly keen on the trick training, I am obviously getting him to really use his brain in a way that I have not asked of him before which is challenging him and when he gets going he does do the work and obviously he does have a choice, its just that I don't think the kibble is making him enthusiastic enough about the work which is fair enough but a problem for me because I feel like I need to add in hot dogs and chicken to make it worth his while to really put in the effort which means he has to then have less of his kibble which is his balanced/low fat diet but its really hard to keep weight off this dog despite two 45 min - hour long walks per day, so I dont feel like I can add too much to his diet without it effecting his waist line.
But how do I motivate him without him gaining weight and without disrupting the balance of his diet? I would love to use toys as his reward instead of food but he just isnt that into them, he likes a ball but he can take it or leave it depending what mood he is in so often its not a good enough motivator.
I just feel a little guilty too cos I am really enjoying the process of trick training and would be doing it all day if I could but I just don't think my dog feels the same way, I tell him we are in working mode by saying 'do you want to train?' to him and show him the food tub and clicker, the first few days he jumped up and look really keen and interested but as times gone on he looks less bothered and I feel a little disheartened that he isnt enjoying it as much as I am even though he IS doing it.
I dont think I am over doing it as I said I only keep it to usually two very short sessions per day and I am only teaching him really easy behaviours so I dont think he is overwhelmed, I click and treat at a fast rate so I dont think I am expecting too much work for the payoff either but sometimes I think he looks a bit fed up about the fact that he now has to work for his food instead of getting a free bowl of it twice per day.
I also give him about three days off a week from the tricks so instead of getting his daily food from the clicker training he gets it in a kong or treat ball twice a day on the non-trick training days.
This morning I mixed hot dogs into his kibble and fed them randomly throughout the training so he never knew if he was going to get hot dog or kibble and he worked really well but it was also after two days off. but I dont want to do this with every session because it means using less of his normal low fat kibble and then I am not sure how much I should remove of the daily allowance of kibble to allow for the extra hot dog food.
I hope I have explained this well enough for people to understand, it feels a bit muddled but its hard to explain. I guess I am asking how to motivate a food motivated only dog without causing weight gain and disrupting the balance of his diet? and will he become more enthusiastic over time? is it just tough for him now because he has never had to use his brain too much before but as he gets more used to it will he start to enjoy it more? or what else could I try to use to motivate him?

Sarah83
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Re: ideas for motivators for a weight conscious dog

Post by Sarah83 » Mon Mar 12, 2012 1:17 pm

Would he work for veggies? My Lab will work for garden peas, pieces of carrot or apple. They're not high value rewards for him but they're rewarding enough in the house and aren't going to put weight on. For one rep rewards you can use things like the leash being put on, the door to outside being opened, the opportunity to sniff the base of a tree or a patch of grass, access to someone, basically anything he really wants at that moment. Yes, you only get one repetition but I find things like this are often much more powerful reinforcers than food because they're what the dog REALLY wants at the time. You could also mix something smelly in with the kibble to make it smell more interesting. I used to put a few pieces of garlic sausage in with Ruperts.

How long have you been using his food as training rewards instead of giving it to him in a bowl? Rupert wasn't best impressed when I first switched from feeding him in a bowl to making him work for his food but after a while he accepted it. Also, how long have you been clicker training him for? Are you absolutely certain he understands that it's his behaviour that earns him the click and treat? It took Rupert months to catch on to that and it was only then that he really got enthusiastic about the training. Spencer caught on much more quickly but hasn't fully realised that trying different things is worth while yet. It could be that your dog isn't too enthusiastic simply because he doesn't quite understand it all yet and isn't used to having to use his brain.

Gen1
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Re: ideas for motivators for a weight conscious dog

Post by Gen1 » Mon Mar 12, 2012 1:55 pm

Thank you Sarah, I have tried veggies and he spits them out! lol but I think you are right about him getting used to it, its only been two or three weeks that I stopped using the food bowl so I guess it will take time for him to be completely happy about working for it.
I have been using the clicker for the same amount of time and you have a good point about him not fully understanding it yet, he def. understands that the click means treat but maybe he does need more time to make the connection between doing the different behaviours gets the click to happen!
He was much more enthusiastic today so maybe things are starting to connect with him. I will keep you posted.
Thanks again!

Ari_RR
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Re: ideas for motivators for a weight conscious dog

Post by Ari_RR » Mon Mar 12, 2012 7:08 pm

Ari would work for cold watermelon any day of the week :wink:

easilyconfused
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Re: ideas for motivators for a weight conscious dog

Post by easilyconfused » Mon Mar 12, 2012 7:20 pm

Feed a high quality kibble (something like orijen/totw) so that it a higher motivator but feed less of it to help with the weight gain. A dog will work harder for a small amount of high quality food over a large amount of junky food .(diet pet food contains loads of filler like grains).

jacksdad
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Re: ideas for motivators for a weight conscious dog

Post by jacksdad » Mon Mar 12, 2012 8:39 pm

Ari_RR wrote:Ari would work for cold watermelon any day of the week :wink:
Jack LOVES cold watermelon, honey dew melon, cantaloup, san juan melon,...and pears, and bananas, and apples, and carrots, and spinach, and broccoli and Brussels sprouts, and peas, and well basically he likes food.

emmabeth
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Re: ideas for motivators for a weight conscious dog

Post by emmabeth » Mon Mar 12, 2012 9:40 pm

I would be a bit harder on him over food - if food is not interesting him, he is NOT hungry enough, ergo, you are feeding him too much food! I do tend to exercise caution obviously you are not some scary dictator withholding food as torture, but if he would happily eat the kibbles for free from a bowl, and he won't eat them as rewards for doing simple training in a low distraction environment.. then he plain is not hungry enough!

So - do your training sessions, use the high value stuff for the hard work/new tricks, use the lower value stuff for easy things, day to day stuff he already knows. Use high value things for jackpots at the end of a training session too, so he understands that if he does pay attention for five minutes, there WILL be something higher value at the end.

Are your training rewards small enough - they want to be no bigger than your pinky nail!

You can also flavour kibble by putting it in a bag with the bits of chicken/cheese/hotdog sausage. Shake a little garlic powder on there too (or smear a little garlic puree inside the bag), that usually gets dogs pretty wild!

If you do all this and he is saying 'no thanks' to training sessions for his kibble, then give the food filled kong at the end of the day a miss. (Or if you feel thats too mean, fill it with chunks of carrot and apple!)
West Midlands based 1-2-1 Training & Behaviour Canine Consultant

Gen1
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Re: ideas for motivators for a weight conscious dog

Post by Gen1 » Tue Mar 13, 2012 7:23 am

Thank you emmabeth, I get what your saying and its not that he wont work for the food, I have a really good bow, play dead, and spin both ways, the last couple of days I have started training rear end awareness and that is going well too. I just think maybe I am a bit soft! lol
I tend to feed him a small amount (small handful) in a kong or something when we first get up, then after an hour or so we go for a 45 min walk, then after about half hour of getting in we do 5-10 minutes training, then about 4pm next 45-1 hour walk then half hour rest, then training, then about 7pm he gets another food dispensing toy with the rest of his food in.
I feed the first kong in the morning because I feel bad if he hasnt had something to eat so he isn't starving when we do the training but I think this is good because I don't think he would be able to concentrate if he was too hungry and it would lead to frustration on his part and I want him to enjoy the trick training or there isn't any point doing it.
The kibble I use is about the size of a pea and the chicken and other stuff I chop up is to about the same size.
i have started putting all the good stuff into the kibble box and massaging it together to make the kibble smell more interesting and that has helped but the garlic powder is a great idea, good for him too so will def. try that.
I should stress that my dog is a really calm dog anyway, he has never got massively over excited about food despite being a lab, don't get me wrong, he likes his food but I am wondering if because he is now getting his food throughout the day rather than the whole lot twice a day, he is less bothered, as I would be if I snacked throughout the day instead of having two normal meals.
I think my issue is that I feel guilty about making him work!! I think I want him to jump for joy every time I get the clicker out and because he isn't, even though he still works well I am feeling bad! does anyone else ever feel like this? am I just being soft?

Ari_RR
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Re: ideas for motivators for a weight conscious dog

Post by Ari_RR » Tue Mar 13, 2012 8:30 am

Gen1 wrote:I think I want him to jump for joy every time I get the clicker out and because he isn't, even though he still works well I am feeling bad!
Jumping with joy when the clicker comes out?? hmmm.... Every time we do clicker training (or any kind of training for that matter), Ari looks like he is doing me personally and the entire mankind a huge favor, and we should be forever greatfull to His Highness. I am used to this.

Gen1
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Re: ideas for motivators for a weight conscious dog

Post by Gen1 » Tue Mar 13, 2012 8:48 am

Ari_RR wrote:Jumping with joy when the clicker comes out?? hmmm.... Every time we do clicker training (or any kind of training for that matter), Ari looks like he is doing me personally and the entire mankind a huge favor, and we should be forever greatfull to His Highness. I am used to this.
:lol: so it is just me being soft then?

bendog
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Re: ideas for motivators for a weight conscious dog

Post by bendog » Tue Mar 13, 2012 8:54 am

:lol: yes I do love videos of Ari training!

Ours love strawberries. But will work for cucumber, frozen peas, carrot, apple, pear, swede, broccoli - virtually any veg really.

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Nettle
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Re: ideas for motivators for a weight conscious dog

Post by Nettle » Tue Mar 13, 2012 10:53 am

Maybe he doesn't like doing 'tricks' and sees them as pointless. You could do other things eg scent trailing which he might enjoy more.

Also, at 5 and overweight, he may find some movements uncomfortable. He may have the start of arthritis. Has he had a vet check recently, one that included blood and joint tests?
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