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Quynn, since the day he came home at 8 weeks, has been obsessed with toys. We've been targeting, laying foundations for distance work, handler awareness and obstacle discrimination, and practicing recalls, using a toy(various tugs and frisbees) as a reward. He's a crazy tugger and retrieves like a Labrador, and anything that remotely resembles a toy or ball he will offer to me(or any family member available if I'm not) to play with.


This is a good thing: a toy-motivated dog is a novelty, as my Italian Greyhound, Sierra, will do anything in the world for food, no matter the "value" of the cookie being offered, but will rarely look twice at a toy unless we're playing the "fuzzy squirrel on the end of the lunge whip" game. Quynn is almost the opposite, however, as he'll do anything if it means a tug game or frisbee toss but will not work half as enthusiastically for food.


My dogs will not let me have it both ways. :rolleyes:


This could very well be 100% my fault, as I've strongly encouraged an interest in toys and engaging in play with them since his first weeks. He learned your basic obedience commands using food, but food has slowly been descending in his list of priorities, despite my valiant efforts to produce new and enticing treats: cheese, liver treats, tuna fudge, chicken bits, Charlee Bears marinated in bait bags full of more succelent cookies, and occasionally steak bits. I'm always blown away when he acts as if I had kibble in my hands when I present him with these new and supposedly valuable treats, as my IG would have gone crazy with excitement and offered every behavior she knows for one bite. :D


Could I ask for advice as to how I might go about encouraging Quynn to work for food? Winter is upon us, my agility field is buried in two feet of snow, and I had planned on spending the winter playing mind games, learning cool tricks, and working on call-to-heels and contacts with my 10-month-old puppy, primarily indoors. I find toys a bit cumbersome in training these behaviors in the restrictions working indoors introduces.

Any input would be great appreciated.

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River is more toy motivated then food (but does have food motivation). I practice agility in a class setting in an indoor arena all year long. I wear an apron I got from Home Depot (can also get same at Lowes and True value). It was 99 cents and is made of canvas w/ 2 pouches. It's like a waitress apron. I use it for holding my treats during training via the right pocket.


I wanted more drive with River so I got one of the mini tennis balls (for toy breeds) and put it in the left pouch. When she completes a series or does something particularly hard for her (ie teeter) she gets the ball tossed to chase (very short distance) or I say 'catch' and she knows to turn to me to catch in her mouth. She then brings to me and I either do it one more time or I take up the ball and offer a treat in its place - every time. Sometimes she gets treated with just a treat, but like I said for long sequences or something 'hard' or 'thoughful' she gets the ball. Something small to tug that you could 'pouch' would work as well.


The ball works really great. It's small and not distracting to others. Playing the catch works great - and the toss is good for building River's speed - ie. through tunnels, as she comes out she sees the ball roll across the floor. The next attempt she blitzes through tunnel expecting ball. I haven't built up full course speed yet, but we also don't practice outside of class time, so it'll take longer.


The apron works out great so your hands stay free. I never have trouble getting the ball out or in, or a treat out.


I don't think you HAVE to make your dog food motivated. Just get a little more creative in how you can use a toy.


My current project is to hold up the little ball near my eye to show River I have it - holding it in kind of an OK symbol. Then pouch it and do the run, she gets it at the end. Eventually I hope to just use my hand in that position without the ball so that I can do this at a trial and it will entice River to run faster (faster then her current jog) since she knows the ball is coming - it will just have to wait until we get out of the ring :rolleyes:

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Food motivation can be conditioned just like everything else. I actually regard accepting a food reward as a part of the training process for a dog.


I would start by spending a few weeks having your dog "earn" his meals, particularly breakfast if you feed twice. I would take the dog into a room alone and cue some basic behaviors - sit, down, etc. - and reward each behavior with a piece of kibble. Once half the bowl is gone, I put the dog in a sit or down-stay and then place the bowl across the room and release him to it.


Another thing is to remove all toys from the area when you are training and offer only food as a reward. I would start with just a few behaviors and build duration slowly. I would end the whole session with toy play to reward the whole process.


Since value doesn't seem to make a difference to your dog, I wouldn't worry so much about it until some food motivation is apparent.

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Yes, training contacts is something you generally want to do with food. What does Quynn eat for his meals? Is he a hearty eater or more prone to pick? One thing I will do is have my dogs work for their suppers during a training session. It sounds as if you're already trying lots of good stuff to motivate him, but there still may be some extra special treat out there that rings his bell. Maybe skip a meal or cut way back to wet his appetite, then he gets the rest after he finishes his training session. When I first started training Quinn in a barn, the treats he had always seemed very happy with held little attraction to all the scents. I had to find something extra, extra special to get him back in the agility game with me.


Have you read Shaping Success by Susan Garrett? She runs into an issue where Buzz is more keen to do agility than play tug with her. Susan finds this unacceptable because then she would lose control over the reinforcers. So she took Buzz far enough away from the equipment until he could focus on her and playing tug. Then she worked their way back to the agility practice area, going in increments, until he was able to tug wildly and happily with her even with all the super fun agility obstacles around. Maybe you could take an approach like that so that he will be more motivated to take treats from you.


Also, sometimes our dogs are very clever in holding out for what they'd prefer. I have friends who come over at lunch to take the dogs out and at one point Quinn had them convinced he would only play with the soccer ball. I was stunned when I heard this because, while he has favorites, Quinn has NEVER refused a toy that I offered to him. But he somehow got these two intelligent people to believe that there was only one toy that would do for him. I told them the next time he tried that, put the toy away and no game for a few minutes or even that whole visit if necessary. Quinn figured out the new rules quickly and stopped dictating the Toy of the Day.

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Have you done any clicker work with him? I have a very toy-motivated dog, who actually happens to hate the clicker noise itself. But I used a very sharp "yes!" to mark behavior I wanted, and gradually she learned that good things can happen with food too. I never had to resort to using her dinner for work (which is good, since she eats raw!), but now she'll even beg from others at agility trials. But if you haven't done any clicker work, I'd recommend that. You can use it for all the foundation stuff you're thinking about - esp. if there simply aren't any toys around.



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  • 2 weeks later...

I very much appreciate everyone's input(and apologize for my delayed reply!). I have applied the suggested methods and all are seeming to work, through some time and consistency - something I am more than willing to give in this case as I'd be up a creek without a food-motivated puppy to work with all winter long. His interest in tasty tidbits has inreased dramatically compared to his attitude the day I created the thread.


I've been decreasing his meals and making up for them during training. It certainly does sharpen his appetite and give him reason to pay more attention.


The operant conditioning method has worked well, also, as he is insanely toy motivated(needless to say, at this point) and was quick to learn that taking several treats enthusiastically in quick succession will earn him a game, and at the same time increased his enjoyment in the cookies, having associated them with his favorite tug. The clicker helps a great deal, now that I've been given more creative ideas on how to go about using it in this situation.


Again, I appreciate the advice and will continue to work on this.

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