Monday, May 16, 2011

High Value Treats

When training greyhounds, hounds, or other non-traditional training breeds, I cannot over emphasize the need for high value treats.  I have been teaching basic obedience classes for greyhounds for about 12 years now and I learned very quickly that you cannot train with crappy dog treats.  Hounds are just not wired for listening and following directions given by humans.  However, if you choose a hound that likes food and you choose good food, you can have a hound as easy and motivated to train as a traditional training breed.  Here are some suggestions.

First, do not train with fruit, vegetables, or bread.  Yes, I know your hound loves it at home when he is doing absolutely nothing, but he will probably not work his tail off for it.  Pockets stuffed with fruit and bread does not make you a very interesting dog trainer especially in public and surrounded by distractions.

The same rule applies to dog treats.  If it is  labeled as a "dog treat" (especially dog biscuits), find something better.  The problem with "dog treats" is that they are often designed to go in your pocket and therefore lack a strong odor.  Dogs often consume treats so quickly that they barely taste it... make sure the treat has a strong odor so the dog knows the food is high value.  My only exception to this rule are dog treats made out of fish (salmon especially) as they tend to stink.  Plato Salmon Strips and the salmon variety of Yummy Chummies have a strong odor and are easy to break apart and to train with. 
All in all, the best treat I have found to train my greyhounds with is real meat.  In the deli section of your grocery story, you may find roasted rotisserie chickens.  I stay alert for sales and buy several when they are available for a good price.
Once the chicken cool to room temperature, I pull all of the meat off the bone and divide into small plastic containers.  I will admit that this is a bit labor intensive.
The freezer section of your grocery store offers several easy pre-cooked alternatives.  You can usually find grilled chicken strips, beef fajita strips, steak strips, and/or an assortment of meatballs.  Remember that these are pre-cooked so you need only to thaw and they are ready for use.
If you are in the mood for cooking, fire up the grill.  Maybe grill yourself something while you are at it.
I keep my eyes open for chicken breasts or thigh meat to grill that is on sale .
I buy turkey, beef, and salmon burgers in bulk so I get a better price.
Just be sure to keep your spouse away from the treats... unless, of course, you are training him too!  "No, Stephen, No!"
If you get into more serious training, you will eventually want to teach your hound about jackpots.  A jackpot is a longer lasting, high value reward for difficult or lengthy work (for example, three minute sit stays).  I teach my greyhounds that if they are working hard for a period of time without a reward that something really great is coming.  This keeps them performing with spark well into a 5 minute obedience routine.  If your hound feels cheated and unappreciated, they will perform as such. 

Peanut butter or creme cheese smeared on the inside of a small plastic container is a reward that keeps on rewarding.  It can take a few minutes for your hound to clean out even a small smear of peanut butter and then it sticks inside of the mouth providing lingering reinforcement for another minute or two.  Just make sure you are not in a hurry to move onto the next exercise.
If you feed raw, you can save your muscle meat as a reward if your dog considers it high value.  I feed a mixture from Blue Ridge Beef that contains beef, heart, liver, and tripe and it makes a great jackpot reward.  You can do something similar with canned dog food.
Cheese is another good reward, but do not get stuck on one variety.  I have trained with cheddar, mozzarella, muenster, Swiss, and Monterey Jack. 

Be sure none of the meat from your Thanksgiving turkey goes to waste.  Skip the skin, but pull off all of the meat that the humans tend to skip.  Last year, I even bought a couple of turkeys on sale right after Thanksgiving and roasted them in my oven.
Also, I always have my old steady, Red Barn, with me.  It is a high quality dog food that comes in a meaty roll.  Once you cut it open, it has to be kept in the refrigerator and what you can't use in a week needs to be frozen.  I have only ever seen Red Barn for sale at dog shows, but similar varieties (Pet Botanicals and Natural Balance) can often be found at PetSmart and Petco.  I use this treat for easy to perform tasks.
Lastly, train with variety.  I always have Red Barn and 2 or 3 high value treat varieties with me when I train.  If you always use the same thing, it will get boring.  Trust me when I say that my greyhounds do not care about pleasing me.  They do what I ask with enthusiasm because the food is good and it pleases them.

Happy Training!