Monday, October 10, 2011

Trick or treat

A lot has been written about “high value” vs “low value” treats but my experience is that my dogs have eaten leftover bits of ribeye steak, salmon fudge, shaved deli luncheon meat, string cheese, hotdogs, Charlie Bears, bits of toast, cold cereal, peas and their kibble with the same level of enthusiasm — like they are starving creatures who haven’t been fed for weeks. I suspect they might eat drywall and roofing nails with equal levels of delight, although I have no intention of testing that theory.

I don’t totally buy into the theory of “high value” treats, not just because the dogs' enthusiasm level doesn’t seem to change between Cheerios and garlic chicken but because I’m not sure my dogs have ever actually TASTED their treats in the first place.

The first two dogs who shared my adult life were shelties and while I hate breed stereotyping, shelties really do eat anything. And they eat it in a hurry. There is no leisurely savoring of flavors or appreciative sniffing and chewing. It’s just in and gone. Snap, snap. Got more?

I always joked that Jamie was so food driven because he was raised by shelties. He spent a number of years with Jess and Connor and apparently they imprinted upon him the importance of 1) eat everything you can get 2) eat it fast 3) demand more 4) steal it if you have to.

When Phoenix arrived, his breeder told me he was the “slow eater” of his litter. Dear God in Heaven, I was scared to see how the other puppies ate because putting a bowl in front of him triggered some cosmic vacuum that sucked his meal and anything else within a four-foot vicinity into his maw.

In short, I have never had a picky eater. This is a blessing because it’s convenient to grab whatever treats are at hand without worrying about having the “special” treat that is the magic cure to all our training problems. (If only it were that easy!)

That’s not to say I haven’t pulled out the “big guns” from time to time when I hoped to make a statement about a particular skill or exercise. While I suspect this may have been more to make me feel better about it than increase any potential learning by my dogs, I do recognize that leftover prime rib ranks much higher than Cheerios.

The classic stand-bys of string cheese and hot dogs may be viewed as boring by the gourmands among us but I’m not sure my dogs have ever met food they thought was boring. Like any reward, it’s what the dog thinks that counts.


  1. My one sheltie eats slow. Its hard to believe because the other two suck it down faster than a hoover could. She is also picky. Miley wont eat string cheese or french fries. Can you believe it?? LOL I cant either.

  2. Casey (the Lab) eats things like your Shelties. He's still on an every other day dosing of Prednisolone and I don't even need to hide the pill. He sees something and he tries to eat it. Layla, on the other hand, chews things very well. If I gave her one single piece of kibble, she'd chew it into a fine powder and then swallow. When I have to give her pills it's a nightmare because she always, without fail, chews through the food and spits out the pill. Ugh.

    As far as training food, I've not yet had her say, "Cheese again? No thanks!" or anything like that. This other woman in agility class brings Charlee Bear treats for her dogs and Layla hounds her like a psycho.

    You're totally right though - it's about what the dog thinks. Layla would take a little milk over a steak. Crazy girl!

  3. PS ~ It isn't the Pred that makes Casey such a ravenous eater. He's just a Lab.

  4. To Brice, everything is a high value treat - steak, kibble, paper napkins etc. Taste doesn't seem to be a factor. but then he doesn't understand the concept of chewing either. At least his breeder warned me that he was highly food motivated..... understatement of the decade. LOL!

  5. It makes me jealous when people come to class with better food than I had for supper!! There are times I almost beat the dog to the tunnel, just so I might get a 'treat'!! VBG LUCKY DOGS!!!

  6. Jazz has always been picky. He often skips a meal and will take a treat and delicately drop it on the ground until he is sure it won't poison him. I do need something he loves to keep him interested.
    Coach will eat anything, anytime, anywhere - fast. I have to LOWER the value of treats with him or he gets so excited he can't pay attention to what I want. It's ridiculous. I have to hide the reward or he can't pay attention long enough to learn anything!
    Maybe some day I will have a dog that is somewhere in the middle. I can dream.

  7. My young aussie is definitely both enthusiastic about food and willing to consider anything that will fit in her mouth to be edible. That said, one very useful thing I have learned from my favorite trainer, Michele Pouliot, is that you use ordinarily thrilling food, like kibble, for daily training, and bring out the higher value treats for trials and other highly distracting environments. Had my maybe 10 month old puppy entered for the first time in Rally Advanced, and wasn't at all sure she would actually heel off leash, since she was so busy being thrilled that the world was full of people and dogs who might potentially play with her. Pulled out the string cheese and all of a sudden I was the center of her universe. (Got 1st place.) Now, string cheese might be some people's idea of low value, but it was enough of a bump up from the ordinary for her that it got her attention real quick.

  8. I have had a long standing theory, totally unproven, that hounds' tastebuds are in their stomachs!

  9. Holly is by no means a picky eater. Anything and everything will serve as a reward. However, when she's working for cheese rather than kibble she ups her game. She's faster, precise, and more focused. While with kibble, she'll work, but she's not going to kill herself with the effort of trying. Goofy hound!