As promised, this is the blog concerning how to treat test your student. Since dogs are pretty much the pigs of the animal world (um, I mean after actual pigs), we’ll use ol’ man’s best friend here as our example. Change the kinds of food and this works for basically animal though. For example, usually the meatier and smellier the food, the more most dogs and cats will like it. Smell is an important factor when picking foods for dogs and cats. Parrots usually appreciate seeds and nuts over healthier foods. Parrots are pretty discriminating when it comes to taste and texture and smell plays a very little role, if any. Horses usually appreciate richer foods like vegetables over hay, and so on.
Step 1. Gather your food samples. Try to have a large selection of foods that you think your student will like. Of different tastes, textures and smells. Make sure you have at least ten pieces of each kind of food.
As an example, our selection will include the following:
10 pieces of salmon
10 pieces of hot dogs
10 pieces of chicken breast
10 pieces of pig heart (do NOT under estimate the power of gross organs! The more disgusting to you, the more delicious to them!)
10 pieces of low fat cheese
10 pieces of green apple
10 pieces of dried beef (Some dogs will work for dried meat, which makes it easier and cleaner for you! But fresh is usually of higher value since it retains more smell and meaty appeal.)
Step 2. Select two food samples. Hold a piece of salmon in one hand and a piece of hot dog in your other hand. Hold your hands wide apart. Allow your dog to pick which one they like better. Which ever they ate first, they probably prefer. Let’s say it’s hot dog.
Step 3. Again, hold a piece of salmon in one hand and a piece of hot dog in your other hand. Only this time, switch which hand the food is in, so that it’s not in the same hand as last time. See which one your dog eats first. If they ate the hot dog first again, that means hot dog is preferable over salmon. If they ate the salmon first this time, do a series of tests until you notice which one they usually eat first and go with that food. Always make sure to switch hands!
Step 4. Then test the hot dog, using the same method, against the next food sample. Keep moving up the list, testing the winning food against each new food.
Step 5. Use that food!
Chances are, the most preferable food isn’t all that healthy. But that’s okay. You want to break out this food when you’re first teaching any new behavior/trick or when you need a really high value reinforcer. Once you’re having success, you can phase in the use of healthier treats. One bonus here of using positive reinforcement is that it’s a blast! The animals learn to appreciate the experience of “winning” and scoring a reward over the actual food value.
The size of the treat really depends on the animal you’re training. For dogs, you don’t want the food to be bigger than your pinky finger nail, as a general rule. Basically, you want the animal to be able to finish the food in one to two bites and be able to move on to the next thing.
If your pet is willing to work for the food you give them at meal time, use this to your advantage!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (I can’t stress this enough, hence all the exclamation points!) I like to use 1/2 the animal’s meal in a food distributing toy and the other half for training. It’s not mean, I promise. They’re eating, and having fun and learning while they’re doing it! Remember, all animals in the wild work for their food. So it’s perfectly natural and satisfying for your pet to do the same. And it really beats lying around with nothing to do.