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Old 06-09-2011, 07:43 AM
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Default Motivating non-food motivated dogs in a classroom environment?

I work as an assistant at a dog training school. I would call us fairly typical R+ school: we use food as our primary reinforcer, encourage people to use clickers, etc. Every once in a while we'll get a dog in a class who has a very low food drive, and sometimes the low food drive comes coupled with no drive to work with their handler.

Due to the restrictions of operating in a classroom environment (set class time, needing to ensure all handler/dog teams get feedback) I worry that these people with dogs who don't fit as neatly into our curriculum might not be getting as much out of it as they could.

I'd love to hear how you approached these more challenging dogs, so I have a better handle on how I might want to approach them in the future. What drives do you tap into? How do you work it into a classroom environment?
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Old 06-09-2011, 08:29 AM
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I taught training classes for three years.

IME, the vast majority of non-food motivated dogs fall into two categories: dogs who are too stressed out in the class environment to eat; and dogs who are free-fed, just ate before class, or dogs who've been reinforced for not taking treats.

The first category is very difficult to fix. The best success I've had is having the client bring the dog to the training facility several times a week, outside their class time, just to try to get the dog more comfortable in the environment. The difficult thing, though, is that this kind of client probably has never taken the dog out into public before the class, so getting them to do it several times a week is usually very difficult.

The second category is a little easier. Stop free feeding. Don't feed the day of class, until after class. Only give treats for good behavior, no treating "because he's cute."

Being reinforced for not eating would be the dogs who don't eat unless their owner hand feeds them. Hand feeding usually involves a lot of cajoling and pleading, and a lot of attention, and some dogs find all this attention a lot more reinforcing than eating. Or the people who put their dog's food down, and when the dog doesn't eat it, they add "gravy" or treats on top to make it more tasty; this definately reinforces the dog for not eating.
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Old 06-09-2011, 09:39 AM
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IME very few dogs are completely food unmotivated. That said, dogs who aren't food motivated do exist and I suppose it's possible for a dog like this to have low prey drives as well as a independent character. Honestly the stars aligning to bring forth such a dog I think would probably be as common as meeting a true dominant dog. In other words pretty darn uncommon.

I would be far more apt to think for most dogs in the classroom who can't seem to focus that the dog was undersocialized to distractions, may have latent behavioral issues like DA or being chronically underexercised, or may have an extremely poor temperament. These dogs often times are best NOT taught in the classroom and would probably do infinitely better starting at home with a study course or in private lessons then moving to group work once the behavior is taught with no distractions.
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Old 06-09-2011, 10:15 AM
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We've had a few dogs come through agility 1 that were so stressed they wouldn't eat. The vast majority of them improve on their own by the end of the class, because they become more comfortable in the environment. We do a lot of classical conditioning too (everytime I walk towards the dog, I'll toss warm hot dogs in their direction to eat on their own time line, not asking for any behavior).

Really though, it's just time. The patient owners come back to repeat agility 1 and usually see significant improvement. The impatient ones give up and figure their dog isn't cut out for it.
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Old 06-09-2011, 02:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lizzybeth727 View Post
I taught training classes for three years.

IME, the vast majority of non-food motivated dogs fall into two categories: dogs who are too stressed out in the class environment to eat; and dogs who are free-fed, just ate before class, or dogs who've been reinforced for not taking treats.

The first category is very difficult to fix. The best success I've had is having the client bring the dog to the training facility several times a week, outside their class time, just to try to get the dog more comfortable in the environment. The difficult thing, though, is that this kind of client probably has never taken the dog out into public before the class, so getting them to do it several times a week is usually very difficult.

The second category is a little easier. Stop free feeding. Don't feed the day of class, until after class. Only give treats for good behavior, no treating "because he's cute."

Being reinforced for not eating would be the dogs who don't eat unless their owner hand feeds them. Hand feeding usually involves a lot of cajoling and pleading, and a lot of attention, and some dogs find all this attention a lot more reinforcing than eating. Or the people who put their dog's food down, and when the dog doesn't eat it, they add "gravy" or treats on top to make it more tasty; this definately reinforces the dog for not eating.
Excellent ^^^^. Only thing I have to add is, I ask students to make a list of reinforcers (being food, toys or actitivies) split into A,B,C,D and E levels of value to the dog or what they think the dog would value. A being the highest and E being dog couldn't careless about it. Doesn't matter if they use everything on that list either.

My biggest frustration in class isn't the non motivated dog, but getting the owner to work at finding what does motivate their dog and then we can figure out how to use it best!! And of course those students that come to class with only one reward and typically the same reward EVERY week When I want them to come with at least 3 different rewards of various levels of value. Btw, upon registering for a class, they are provided with a list of possible motivators (to help them think outside of the box i.e store bought treats and hot dogs) and recipes for awesome rewards that are cheap and easy to make.
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Old 06-09-2011, 02:14 PM
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We currently have a dog in the program that is motivated by bubbles He loves popping them. It can definitely be weird stuff.
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Old 06-09-2011, 02:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CaliTerp07 View Post
We currently have a dog in the program that is motivated by bubbles He loves popping them. It can definitely be weird stuff.
lol love it!!!! Another one to add to the list.
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Old 06-19-2011, 07:53 AM
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I used to carry around a bucket when training and let Milo stick his head in it as a reward. He LOVED to put his head in the bucket.
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