Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Introducing me . . . the Super Cookie

Well, that’s the easiest way to explain my training goal for the summer.


I have to be a better cookie than any actual cookie. I have to be such a fine cookie that all others pale in comparison.

Is that being overly dramatic?

I think not.

The process of turning myself into something that it surpasses all other rewards and/or distractions on the face of the planet is not something to be approached casually.

I am starting to think it might kill me. It definitely requires pain killers and alcohol.

Possibly not in that order. (Those of you who live with malinois are not laughing. You understand. You are nodding your heads and wiping up the blood and getting the ice packs.)

My summer project of fading Phoenix’s cookie addiction and building true joy (not bribed) in our teamwork has begun. Look, I have the bruises to prove it. There's one here and here and here . . .

Back in the day when I went to seminars and learned about motivating a dog, there were a limited number of options: your dog was either food motivated or toy motivated. Working to avoid physical correction was also mentioned, and I guess that would motivate me - do it or get your neck yanked. But during my formative years, no seminar presenter ever mentioned the best motivator of all, the one you can take in the ring and use openly and fairly: YOURSELF.

It was years down the road before I ever heard a seminar presenter explain the concept of making MYSELF more valuable than any physical reward, edible or not.

So now that I’ve arrived at this point of enlightenment, what to do?

Team Phoenix’s problems are firmly rooted in a marked lack of effort in the absence of a cookie. I had never taught him the importance of making an effort to work when he didn’t really want to and clearly wasn't going to get anything for it. Even though I’d carefully proofed all the obedience exercises through Utility, the cookie rewards were still very much available, so that increased his “want to” in the face of pressure. Of course, the cookies were absent in the ring and his “want to” rapidly followed suit.

So I have two goals for our training this summer: make ME the ultimate reward and show Phoenix he can work even when things are stressful. Making ME the ultimate reward should eliminate a majority of that stress because there won’t be a sudden absence of motivator when we go into the ring. We’ve all said, “If I could just have a cookie in the ring . . .” But then is your dog working to get the cookie or is he working to have fun with you?

In order to build myself as the Super Cookie, I need to be FUN and not rely on food as a substitute. Toys, if used correctly, make you fun. Cookies just make you a cookie dispenser (although they are a perfect reward in some training situations, but not ALL, which was how I was using them.) For me, the simple bottom line is that play gets me involved with my dog on a level he can dial into. Believe me, Phoenix is a speed dialer.

Now be careful with this. Just playing with your dog isn’t going to solve every training crisis you’ve ever had. Sometimes I think people want to play with their dogs without actually getting involved with them. They stand in one place and waggle a toy and are disappointed with the dog does not explode into seizures of delight.

Play is hard work.

Unless you have one of those OCD dogs who fixates on an object and will play with you without very much input on your part, you’re going to have to burn a calorie. If you DO have one of those OCD dogs, make sure you’re the one calling the shots, not him. You choose when and where you play and what toy you play with. Otherwise, the toy becomes almost cookie-like in that the dog is making demands about what he wants and doing as he pleases if he doesn’t get it.

But if you have a normal dog - and this is the hard part - making yourself the cookie means you have to MOVE! And RUN! And SWEAT! (And in my case, occasionally get bruised, scratched and bloodied.) Oh my, yes, it is easier to pop a cookie in your dog’s mouth and be done, no wonder so many people want to train that way.

Next time, I’ll write about using play to get Phoenix to make more effort in training. I don’t intend this to be a tutorial for every dog. It’s just a journal of what we’re doing. I hope it helps some others along the way.


  1. I will take your Super Cook challenge (even though you did not issue one!)

    Thank you for the inspiration.

  2. I too need to make myself a super cookie as we wean off treats. Apologies if I missed this but by playing with a toy, doesn't the toy become the cookie? Yes, you control the toy and make it fun but if the toy isn't there what is the reward in the ring?

  3. Just to let you know that I'm RIVETED... I need to know how to do this because I never want to rely on food again after my last ring experiences (a long time ago now!)...

  4. hahahah just think of how skinny you will be by the end of Summer!! When My Mom used to watch me train my dogs she used to say no wonder you don't get fat (as I love sweets!) We look forward to your journey with becoming the cookie for Phoenix and hope you will do some video clips to show the start of training to your end results.

  5. Keep us posted - I am struggling with the same issues this summer!!

  6. Yes! Patty said it right. I've been meaning to post but couldn't find the time. Real play with your dog, with you being the 'funnest' thing means nothing but you and the dog - hands on play. Forget the toy. Touch, wrestle, push, run, roll, whatever with your dog. You don't need no stinkin' toy!

  7. I have bruises and the occasional bloody knuckle from playing with my Weim during training. It IS work and I am going to start to use more of it. Now, where do I find those nifty elbow things football player wear? Yeah and a mouth guard might be a good idea too! ;-)

  8. I am also following you along this journey. This is something I REALLY need to cultivate with Falkor big time!

  9. Hi Melinda.
    A friend of mine sent me your blog, and I want to tell you that I feel the same way you do... I want to be the cookie, I want to be more Interesting then grass, dirt, toys, dogs etc...
    Let me explain what happen to me...
    My beautiful Dobe and I did our first show. ASCA show. We did OK, he was a little distracted but we got a 195 and HIT. "Small show"
    Then we did a back to back UKC show. The first trial, he was distracted by the small dog laying down in the ring, But he never left heel position. Anyway we got a 197, 1st place.
    OK so now we go to the next ring about 15 to 20 min later. His attention outside the ring was OK.
    So we went In. Everything seemed fine. Then I made a left turn and he decided that he was going straight to go play ball with the kids.
    So I bumped into him of course and after that It just went down the drain. Sniffing the ground, lagging behind etc...
    Like we never trained before. So after this show we waited a while then entered an AKC Wild Card. It was a very long before we went in the ring. I couldn't get his attention outside the ring even with treats! So we went In anyway...He did the same thing as the UKC show and on top of that when came the figure 8, he got up and peed right there. I was just devastated.
    So I'm not sure what went wrong???
    Is it stress???
    Am I just not Interesting enough???
    What do you think???

    I gave him about 1 year of time off and we started training again. And I decided to train with no treats. I love it. I just need more help on this.

    Are you making a video on how you are training? because I would be very interested on buying it. Even If it's not formal. Just your every day training.

    Thank You

  10. This is a fascinating topic! My Border Collies got their OTCH's b/c they can find work itself intrinsically rewarding (tho cookies and toys are appreciated too.) But my REAL breed, Bernese Mt Dogs .... they are cookie monsters. No cookie, no workie! I will be fascinated to learn how to actually BECOME the cookie.