Saturday, March 29, 2008

Is That a Chicken Back in Your Pocket or.........

I have been feeding my dogs raw food for about 10 years now. I love it and the dogs love it. Greyhounds are notorious for bad teeth and giant piles of crap. Raw food is great for reducing both of these issues among other benefits. However, the problem is that raw food is tough to train with. You can't exactly put a chicken back in your pocket and pull it out as a timely reward. Its messy and not exactly safe for humans to handle. Katie and Travis have always been extremely food motivated making them very easy to train and reinforce correct behaviors. They have never refused a treat that I have offered and have never needed any additional incentives to eat.

Reagan is also an eager eater, but she would sometimes rather do something else than to have to perform a behavior for a piece of food..... she is happy to eat the food, but doesn't want to work for it at that moment. I would like to increase her food drive and intensity a few notches, but herein lies the problem..... she receives the highest value food at the beginning of each day and for free (our dogs eat once a day). Ideally, she should work for her meals or at least be fed after she trains.

With kibble, this is so easy. You can throw 5 kibbles into a bowl and ask the dog to sit for it. Its not exactly a fulfilling meal, but at least you can forgo the stress the dog feels about skipping a meal all together and then save the rest for training later. The other benefit to kibble is that its boring, so training with it can easily be jazzed up with some hot dogs, cheese, or roasted chicken mixed in. With raw meaty bones, its difficult to get much jazzier than that.

So I was on a mission to somehow incorporate raw food into the training program and to have Reagan earn it. And to also train her when she is hungry. Each morning over the last few days, I have measured out her food and given her just a small bite and I have saved the rest, generally, 2 chicken backs for later. Then as luck would have it, the local Kroger finally started stocking the "Pollo Fresco" packs again which are mostly chicken necks and several backs. The necks can be cut in half with kitchen shears..... (I know you guys just love to read about this). OK, so now what? I remembered that I had a stuff toy with a Velcro opening that you could stuff with food, squeakers, etc. So I put some chicken neck bites in a little Ziploc bag and stuffed it into the little pouch and **WA LA**! I now had a fuzzy, stuffy, squirrel with editable insides. Well, Reagan liked this new toy very much and chased it with more intensity. It was much easier to throw further now that the squirrel had some meat on its bones. Reagan fetched her prey like a champion courser and brought it straight back to my hands each time after she realized that she needed my help. So while this was messy and inconvenient, it was a successful way to use raw food in training, increase her food and toy drive, and to make her earn that meal.

So now you know for certain that I am weird.