Month: April 2018

How to Fade Food Rewards for Learned Behavior in Dogs by guest blogger, Mat Coulton

There are a lot of folks that think that if you use food rewards to train your dog, then your dog won’t be responsive to direction unless you have food to “bribe” her.

dog-610069_640

(all photos from pixabay.com)

In fact, this is an often-used excuse for using punishment-based training methods. Although it certainly doesn’t have to be true, sometimes inexperienced owners and handlers make it true by failing to understand when and how to fade food rewards.

If the only time you ever train your dog is with a bag full of treats hanging on your waist, then yes, it’s very likely that you will be mostly ignored in just about every other situation. Dogs are smarter than you think!

In this article you will learn why food rewards are preferred by most reinforcement based professional trainers, some tips on keeping food rewards healthy, and how to move away from using food rewards once your dog is performing a behavior to your expectations.

Why Most Trainers Use Food to Teach New Behavior:

Both reward and punishment can motivate your dog (and people too!) to learn. The benefit of using reward as the “go-to” training tool is that in addition to being effective, it helps to build a bond of trust with your dog.

dog-2583282_640

Have you ever been punished for making a mistake when you did not understand what it was that you really did wrong? That is how dogs feel, every time they are punished for failing to be mind-readers! When your dog feels safe in the training environment, she will volunteer new behaviors (critical for some training techniques) as well as give you her eager, confident, focus.

Another big plus of using food as a reward has to do with “rate of reinforcement,” a fancy term that just means the faster you can solicit a behavior and reward it, the faster your dog will learn it. Unlike most other rewards, food rewards can be repeated as fast as every single second, making it the top choice for trainers looking to train complex behaviors like running an agility course or training service animal tasks.

What Food to Use for Training:

If you are lucky enough to have an extremely food motivated dog (ahem….like a Lab!), then your canine is likely to work eagerly for their regular kibble. This is a real bonus because it means that you can set aside a portion of his regular feed and save it to be dispensed one piece at a time during training.

If you have a picky eater on your hands, it might be a little trickier. But don’t think you have to go all out and train with nothing but cheese and hotdogs or expensive (and fattening) commercial treats. Learn more here. Instead, use a mix of pea sized safe foods your dog really gets excited about and some of his regular kibble rations. Smush them up in the bag to get the scent of the higher value foods all over boring-old-kibble. This will keep him engaged in learning, while helping you keep his waistline in check.

When to Fade Food:

Knowing when the time is right to fade food rewards is important. Since food is the most effective reward for “shaping” behavior incrementally towards a final goal, it makes sense to wait until AFTER the behavior is exactly where you want it before you start any of the methods listed here to start moving away from food.

dog-eating-2336525_640

In addition, you want to be sure the behavior is largely “proofed” before taking it out of the regular training routine where food motivators reign supreme. Have you practiced the behavior in a parking lot? Around other people? Around other dogs? Until you have rewarded the behavior in a wide variety of contexts, it isn’t really “learned” so keep the rewards coming.

How to Fade Food:

There are several methods to fading food rewards. Feel free to mix and match these methods…that will keep her guessing!

Randomize Rewards

Once you are getting the right behavior (either on command or in conjunction with a certain stimulus), then you can start choosing only the VERY BEST examples of it to reward with food. For example, if you are working on recall, you can start rewarding only those recalls that are instant, with a very fast speed on that return.

Alternative Rewards

What does your dog love besides food? Once she has a behavior down pat, you can start to reward her with other things such as pets, a toss of the ball or a game of tug. In fact, once you realize the power of motivators, you can start to ask for known behaviors before giving her any of the things she loves.

dog-2091445_640

Surprise Rewards

Once you are using (mostly) non-food motivators to reinforce known behaviors, it is time to make sure you add in some big-time surprise rewards to the mix. These rewards need to be when he least expects them.

Frankly, they can be food or non-food rewards. Just make them BIG!

The point is, if your canine never knows when he is going to hit the jackpot for giving you the behavior you expect, then he is going to be that much more excited about rolling those dice. (Yes, if you were wondering, this is the principle behind gambling.)

Chaining Behaviors

This technique is perfect for use both in and out of formal training sessions. It’s simple: Instead of rewarding after every single cue/behavior, you can start to ask for several known behaviors in a row, followed by a reward (food or otherwise) for successful completion of the chain. This will get her used to giving you what you are asking for, without expecting food for every single trick.

Conclusion

Just because you are using the power of food to train new behavior, doesn’t mean your stuck with a dog that will only perform when you have treats in hand. By using the techniques outlined in this guide, you can have the best of both worlds: The fastest training method out there, and freedom from food rewards once behavior is learned.

Dog and human breast cancer is similar

Enni Markkanen of the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology of the Vetsuisse Faculty of the University of Zurich along with other researchers have determined that breast cancer in dogs is similar to breast cancer in humans.

petey

What the researches found was that the cancer cells in tumors produce substances that cause the healthy cells around the tumor to support the growth of the cancer cells, thus spreading the cancerous tumor.

The spread of breast cancer works the same in dogs as it does in humans. It does not react the same in rats or cells produced in the laboratory making the study of breast cancer in dogs important in understanding breast cancer in humans.

With permission from the dog’s owners, researchers study the surrounding tissue in dogs who have mammary tumors using molecular biology and immunohistological methods and conduct pathological tests to try and better understand the nature of the disease. This type of research will benefit both humans and dogs, hopefully leading to a cure for breast cancer for both.

Studies show that the family dog is most likely to bite a child

Christine Arhant from the Institute of Animal Husbandry and Animal Protection at Vetmeduni Vienna studied bite incidents involving the family dog. What they found is quite interesting and makes a lot of sense.

Many bite incidents occurred while the parent or an adult was watching the child interact with the family dog. The researchers found that children love to pet their dogs, crawl after them and hug them. However, the dog may not want the constant attention that children give them. Dogs need quiet time away from children and often parents do not give the dog this option. Part of the problem is that adults trust the family dog and while they would not let their child interact with a strange dog, they allow them to harass the family dog to the point where the dog may not be able to take it any longer.

DSCN1776

The dog may snap or bite the child in an attempt to increase distance between them and the child. It is not necessarily an aggressive act but is the dog’s way of correcting the child. Unfortunately, a bite is a bite to authorities.

Parents must learn to recognize when their dog has had enough and separate the dog from the child. The dog must have a safe area where they can sleep and eat without being forced to interact with the child.

In multiple child households, each child may want to interact with the dog and each child may not spend a lot of time with the dog, but collectively it could be too much for the dog.

According to the researchers, “If the dog feels harassed by the child or restricted in its freedom, it will communicate this through body language. Clear signs include body tension, growling, frequent licking of the snout and yawning. Small children have difficulties interpreting this behaviour. Even a growling dog or one baring its teeth is often described by children as smiling.”

It would benefit the family as well as the dog if parents learned how to read canine body language. There are two presentations that are available that the family can watch to learn about canine body language. They are:

“What is My Dog Saying?” by Carol E. Byrnes, at Diamonds in the Ruff at www.diamondsintheruff.com  This is a power point presentation.  You can also get an excellent video, “The Language of Dogs” by Sara Kalnajs, at www.bluedogtraining.com

When a dog, especially a pet dog bites a child, it is often a traumatic event for the entire family. In some cases, it could mean that they will get rid of the dog which will upset the family as much or more than the bite.

This can be avoided by understanding the needs of the dog and learn to read the dog’s body language which is the only way a dog can quietly tell you what he feels.

The study showed that 50% of the parents surveyed did not supervise their child/dog interactions and allowed the child to have free access to the dog.

Young children should always be supervised while interacting with the family dog. This is the only way to teach a child how to appropriately interact with a dog. This will keep both the child and the dog safe.

Dogs Can Understand Vocabulary and the Intonation of Human Speech

The world was amazed by the accomplishments of Chaser the Border Collie. Chaser can identify 1022 toys by their name and retrieve them by category.

She also knows common nouns such as house, ball, and tree. What is more amazing is that she can learn new words by inferential reasoning by exclusion.

This means she can pick out an object that she has not been taught the name of by eliminating all the objects she knows.  She also understands sentences with multiple elements and has learned by imitation.

scan0011

Border Collie “Ness”

Scientists have shown that Chaser is not unique in her ability to do these things. They have discovered that dogs understand both vocabulary and intonation of human speech using their left brain the same as people do. Prior to this research, it was thought that understanding words and intonations was something only humans could do, but that is not the case. The study also showed that dogs, like people, process words separately from intonation.

This is exciting because it shows us that our dogs (and possibly other animals) are far better able to understand what we say than many people realize. It also expands the horizon as far as how and what we can train our dogs to do.

However, does this mean that if we want to hide something from our dogs that we are talking about we will have to spell out the word? I can only imagine the conversation, “You know I made a v-e-t appointment for R-o-v-e-r for tomorrow.”

New discovery about how birds migrate

Many birds migrate thousands of miles each spring and fall. Often these birds return to the same area and even the same bird houses or nesting sites. When you consider that being off even a half of a degree could cause birds to be hundreds of miles away from their destination, it is an amazing feat of navigation.

DSCN2037

Researchers have long believed that birds follow the magnetic field of the Earth to navigate but were not sure how they accomplished this with such accuracy. Recently Researchers at Lund University in Sweden believe they have discovered the secret. It is a unique protein found in bird’s eyes.

Atticus Pinzón-Rodríguez, one of the researchers involved in the study explained that the cryptochromes protein, Cry4, is the only one that remains constant both day and night. According to the study all birds have this protein which is sensitive to the magnetic fields of the Earth. They found that even birds that do not migrate have the Cry4 protein.

The researchers feel that more studies are needed to fully understand how Cry4 works, but that it is a step in the right direction. Eventually they feel it may help develop new navigation systems for people.

Genetic testing shows greater number of dogs have diseases then previously thought

Dr. Jonas Donner of Genoscoper Labratories, a Finnish company that specializes in animal genetics and testing has found that about 1 in 6 dogs carry the genetic predisposition for genetic disorders. They tested 7000 dogs that made up 230 different breeds. What was important about this research is that some of the diseases that showed up were in breeds that had not been previously reported as having that predisposition.

img096

Because many of the canine inherited disorders are more widespread than previously thought, it indicates that further investigation and testing is needed to help veterinarians and pet owners improve the health of canines.

It also shows that it is important for breeders to conduct genetic testing before they breed their dogs. With breeder and pet owner cooperation, the overall health of our dogs can be improved.

If you plan to purchase a purebred dog, be sure that the parents have been genetically or other wise tested for the diseases and disorders common for that breed. A good breeder will have done this for the dam and sire of a litter. For example, a German Shepherd should be Orthopedic Foundation (OFA) certified free of hip and elbow problems. A Rottweiler should be tested to be free of the canine bleeding disorder, VWD.